Israel-Hamas war: Rafah attack 'on immediate horizon', UN aid chief says, as Netanyahu reaffirms desire to launch offensive

An Israeli ground offensive in Rafah is "on the immediate horizon", the UN's aid chief has warned, as Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed that his forces "will enter" the southern Gaza city.

Martin Griffiths said in a statement on X on Tuesday the threatened attack would "spell even more trauma and death" for those in the city and "strike a disastrous blow" to the aid agencies trying to help them.

"Famine is taking hold. The rules of war continue to be flouted," he said, adding that a ground operation in the city, where an estimated 1.5 million displaced Gaza Palestinians are sheltering, will be "a tragedy beyond words".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to states with influence over Israel "to do everything in their power" to prevent an Israeli assault on Rafah.

Their comments came as Mr Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, reaffirmed his intention to order a long-promised assault on the city, whatever the response by Hamas to the latest ceasefire proposals.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel would enter Rafah, which it says is Hamas's last stronghold, regardless of whether a truce-for-hostages deal is struck.

In a statement from his office, he said: "The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas's battalions there - with or without a deal, to achieve the total victory."

His comments appeared to be directed at his nationalist governing partners, who have pressured him not to accept a deal that might prevent an assault on the city.

Mr Netanyahu appeared to reassure one of them, national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose office said the leader promised him "Israel will enter Rafah, we are not stopping the war and there won't be a reckless deal".

The US has repeatedly said it opposes the Rafah operation until Israel presents a credible plan for evacuating and protecting those in the city.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, speaking in Jordan before flying to Israel, to help advance the latest round of ceasefire talks, urged Hamas to respond to Israel's latest ceasefire plan, saying: "No more delays. No more excuses. The time to act is now."

Negotiations aimed at freeing hostages, bringing relief to civilians and averting an Israeli offensive into Rafah appear to be gaining strength.

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The near seven-month conflict began when Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 people and took some 250 Israelis and foreigners hostage in their 7 October incursion into southern Israel.

It prompted Israel's assault on Gaza, as it pledged to destroy Hamas and bring the hostages home.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed during the Israel-Hamas war, according to local health officials, who say about two-thirds of the dead are women and children.