Israeli Forces Will Move Into Rafah, Cease-Fire Deal or Not, Netanyahu Says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli forces would push into the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah regardless of the outcome of talks to pause the fighting that appear to have been making some progress in recent days.

“It has to be done,” the Israeli prime minister said. “Because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach.”

Mr. Netanyahu did say that if a cease-fire deal was reached, the move into Rafah, which during 20 weeks of war has served as a last refuge for hundreds of thousands of Gazan families forced from their homes, would be “delayed somewhat.”

The push toward Rafah has drawn warnings from Israel’s closest ally, the United States, because of the potential for mass civilian casualties beyond the nearly 30,000 Gazans who have already been reported killed in the war, more than half of whom are women and children.

Mr. Netanyahu, speaking on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” said Sunday that he believed that Israel would be “weeks away” from total victory once the Rafah operation began.

Israeli officials have said that the battle for Rafah could take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin during the second week of March. Ramadan has been a critical moment for tensions between Israelis and Palestinians over the years.

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