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War on Gaza: Israel pledges safe passage for Rafah civilians

Benjamin Netanyahu says in an interview airing Sunday that the Israeli military will provide “safe passage for the civilian population” ahead of an expected assault…

Benjamin Netanyahu says in an interview airing Sunday that the Israeli military will provide “safe passage for the civilian population” ahead of an expected assault on the overcrowded southern Gaza city of Rafah, rejecting fears of a “catastrophe.”

Despite international alarm over the potential carnage in a city crammed with more than a million displaced Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister told ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” the offensive is key to crushing Hamas.

“Victory is within reach. We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions and Rafah, which is the last bastion, but we’re going to do it,” he said in extracts of the interview released Saturday evening.

“We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said.

“We are working out a detailed plan to do so,” Netanyahu added. “We’re not, we’re not cavalier about this.”

He mentioned areas north of Rafah that have been cleared which could be used as safe zones for civilians.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers have warned of potentially “tens of thousands” of casualties in Rafah, while EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell joined other international voices in saying an offensive there “would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe.”

Israel’s main backer, the United States, has said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that, if not properly planned, such an operation risks “disaster.”

US President Joe Biden issued his strongest criticism of Israel yet on Thursday, describing Israeli retaliation for Hamas’s October 7 attack as “over the top.”

The war in Gaza was sparked by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive in Gaza that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children.

To critics who say an assault on Rafah is crossing a red line, Netanyahu responded: “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, ‘lose the war. Keep Hamas there.'”

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