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Israel has ‘no choice’ but Rafah offensive, Netanyahu tells US members of Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told a group of US members of Congress that “victory” in Gaza and “getting” Hamas’ senior leadership in the enclave are just “a few weeks away.”

Speaking to a bipartisan group from Congress on Wednesday, Netanyahu said: “We’ve killed many senior leaders [of Hamas], including number four in Hamas, number three in Hamas. We’ll get number two and number one. That’s victory. Victory is within reach. It’s a few weeks away.”

Hosting the congressional delegation, which the Prime Minister’s Office said was organized by the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said it was “very important to maintain bipartisan support” but “especially in these trying times.”

Netanyahu said that Israel “had no choice” but to move into Rafah as the country’s “very existence is on the line.”

Rescuers inspect the rubble of a building that collapsed following an Israeli air strike in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20, 2024. - Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers inspect the rubble of a building that collapsed following an Israeli air strike in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20, 2024. - Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The prime minister said that since the October 7 Hamas attack, Israel had enjoyed a “remarkable alignment” with the Biden administration but had fundamentally different views on an Israeli move into Rafah.

Israel has faced criticism internationally ahead of its planned offensive on the southern Gaza city, in which more than one million people are currently sheltering.

Netanyahu had earlier told the delegation that displaced Palestinians in Gaza could “just move” out of Rafah and “move with their tents.”

“There’s all of the Gaza Strip north of Rafah,” Netanyahu said. “People move down, they can move up,” the prime minister added.

Disagreements over the impending invasion of Rafah and the worsening humanitarian disaster in Gaza have driven relations between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden to a low.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu cancelled a planned government delegation to Washington in protest of a US abstention from a UN Security Council vote, which had allowed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to pass.

The resolution, proposed by the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, demanded an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, the immediate and unconditional release of hostages and “the urgent need to expand the flow” of aid into Gaza.

In meetings on Monday and Tuesday, senior US officials and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had not reached any agreements on how Israel would move forward with an operation in Rafah, but both sides had agreed to continue the discussions at a working level in the coming days and weeks, US and Israeli officials told CNN.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken all told Gallant that Israel needs to find an “alternative” option to a major assault on Rafah, which would endanger civilians and exacerbate the suffering there.

The White House said Wednesday that Netanyahu had agreed to reschedule the planned visit by the Israeli delegation to Washington to discuss the possible Rafah operation.

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