Netanyahu on the threat from the United States: Israel will fight with its ‘nails’

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold and the army must move in if it hopes to dismantle the group and return dozens of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

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JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that a U.S. threat to withhold some weapons would not stop Israel from continuing its offensive in Gaza, indicating that it could proceed with an invasion of the crowded city of Rafah against the wishes of its closest ally. nearby.

President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to move forward with such an operation for fear it would exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian enclave. On Wednesday he said the United States would not provide offensive weapons for a Rafah offensive, increasing pressure on Netanyahu.

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But in a statement released Thursday, Netanyahu said that “if we have to be alone, we will be alone. If necessary, we will fight with our nails. But we have much more than nails.”

Israel’s top military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, also appeared to downplay the practical impact of any weapons grab. “The army has ammunition for the missions it plans, and also for the missions in Rafah; we have what we need,” he said in response to a question at a news conference.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to invade Rafah, where some 1.3 million Palestinians (more than half the population) have sought refuge. The city in southern Gaza is also the main center for humanitarian operations, which have been severely hampered by the closure of Gaza’s two main crossings this week.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold and the army must move in if it hopes to dismantle the group and return dozens of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

In an earlier response to Biden’s decision, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote a post on Platform X with a heart between the words “Hamas” and “Biden.” He and other ultranationalist members of Netanyahu’s coalition support a large-scale operation in Rafah and have threatened to topple his government if it doesn’t happen.

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Aid groups say an invasion of Rafah would be catastrophic. The UN says most of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians are hungry and that northern Gaza is already experiencing a “full-blown famine.”

Even the limited operation Israel launched earlier this week, in which a tank brigade captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, has thrown humanitarian operations into crisis.

It also complicated what had been months of efforts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to negotiate a ceasefire and the release of hostages. Hamas said this week it had accepted a ceasefire proposal between Egypt and Qatar, but Israel says the plan does not meet its “fundamental” demands. Several days of follow-up talks appeared to end inconclusively on Thursday.

Some analysts said Biden’s hard line against Israel and the rift between allies threatened to weaken Israel’s negotiating position and harden Hamas’s stances. Hamas has demanded guarantees for an end to the war and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as part of any deal, measures that Israel has ruled out.

“It sends a discordant message at a time when Hamas is resisting a hostage deal in the hopes that it will increase pressure on Israel and achieve a ceasefire without having to give anything in return,” the Israel Policy Forum said. . a pro-Israel organization based in New York.

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The war began with Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel, in which it killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 250 hostage. The militants still hold about 100 captives and the remains of more than 30 after most of the rest were freed during a ceasefire last year.

The war has killed more than 34,800 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Israel’s offensive, waged with US-supplied munitions, has caused widespread devastation and forced around 80% of Gaza’s population to flee their homes.

Israel’s capture of the Rafah crossing on Tuesday forced the closure of a key fuel entry point, and it is unclear when it will reopen. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said it only has enough stocks to sustain operations for a few days and has begun rationing.

Israel reopened its side of the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main cargo terminal, after a rocket attack over the weekend, but UNRWA, the main aid provider in Gaza, says no aid can be brought in to the Palestinian side due to the security situation. .

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A recently reopened route in the north remains operational, but only 60 trucks entered on Tuesday, far below the 500 that entered Gaza each day before the war.

The first aid ship bound for a US-built floating dock in Gaza left Thursday morning. But it’s unclear when that corridor will be operational, and even then it won’t be able to handle as much aid as Gaza’s two main land crossings.

Maj. Pete Nguyen, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that parts of the dock are still in the Israeli port of Ashdod awaiting more favorable seas before being moved to its position off Gaza. He said the US ship Sagamore, which left Cyprus, would ferry aid to another ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, off the coast of Gaza.

“In the coming days, the United States will begin an effort supported by the international community to expand the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza using a floating dock,” he said.


Associated Press writers Sam Mednick in Jerusalem, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, Ellen Knickmeyer and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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