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Not entering Rafah means ‘losing war’: Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that critics calling for Israel not to mount military action in Rafah were effectively telling the country to “lose the war” against Hamas.

The Israeli premier, who has vowed to “destroy” the Palestinian militant group behind the 7 October attack on Israel, also indicated that troops would go in regardless of whether a hostage release is agreed.

“Even if we achieve it, we will enter Rafah,” he told a televised news conference.

Israel has faced increasing calls, including from its closest ally the United States, to hold off sending troops into the southern Gazan city, where some 1.4 million people have fled.

The military maintains that it is working to move civilians from the area to minimise casualties, but has not revealed exact details of its evacuation plan.

Talks have been held in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to try to broker a pause in the fighting, while aid agencies are increasingly concerned about the lack of food, water and medicine in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said any settlement “will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions”, dismissing Hamas’s demands as “ludicrous”.

“Israel under my leadership will continue to strongly oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state,” he added.

“After the terrible massacre of 7 October, there can be no greater reward for terrorism than that and it will prevent any future peace settlement.”

He was speaking as thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, accusing Netanyahu’s government of abandoning hostages kidnapped in the 7 October attack and still held in Gaza.

They chanted that the government had “blood on its hands” and called for Israel to negotiate. Among them was Yair Mozes, whose father Gadi is among the captives.

“I’m sorry that the prime minister thinks that it’s not necessary to send representatives to the negotiations in Cairo, where all the parties and mediators are except for Israel,” he added.

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