War in Gaza could last another seven months, Israel warns

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The war in Gaza will likely continue through at least the end of the year, an Israeli official warned Wednesday, seeming to dismiss the idea that fighting would end after the military offensive against Hamas in Rafah.

Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said the year 2024 has been “defined as a year of combat” by Israel’s war cabinet.

“We are now in the fifth month of 2024, which means we expect another seven months of fighting to deepen our achievements and achieve our goal of destroying the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Hanegbi said.

The comments came as Israeli tanks – seen Tuesday in central Rafah for the first time since the operation began earlier this month – continued to probe the southern Gaza city on Wednesday, despite mounting global pressure to stop the offensive.

The Israeli government had previously signaled that entering Rafah would be the final stage of its war against Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 people hostage. In response, Israel launched a devastating offensive in Gaza which has killed more than 36,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Despite the prospect earlier this month of striking a ceasefire-for-hostages deal with Hamas, the more extreme wing of Israel’s war cabinet had urged that the Rafah offensive go ahead, arguing that destroying the group was more urgent and of greater importance than returning the hostages believed to still be alive in Gaza.

But Hanegbi’s comments suggest that the Rafah operation may not mark the end of hostilities, raising questions about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to wind down Israel’s campaign and his plans for the post-war governance of Gaza.

While Netanyahu has portrayed Rafah as Hamas’ “last bastion” his forces have been operating in northern areas the military previously said it dismantled the militants’ command structure.

In a radio interview on the Israeli station Reshet Bet, Hanegbi said “it was honestly stated in the first days of presenting the plans to the cabinet that the war would be long.”

“You need to have patience and know how to stand strong. This resilience is what has allowed this nation to survive for 75 years, and even for 3,000 years before that. Just don’t use a stopwatch on ourselves or set ultimatums,” he said.

Israel is pressing ahead with its military offensive in the face of growing global outrage, after an Israeli airstrike on Sunday killed at least 45 people and injured 200 others in Rafah at a camp for displaced people, which Israel had designated as a safe zone.

Video from the Tal al-Sultan camp showed scenes of horror: charred bodies being pulled from the rubble, a man holding the headless body of a child, fire raging from tents in the background.

The strike came days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt” its offensive in Rafah, or any actions “which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The ICJ said the humanitarian situation in Rafah can now be described as “disastrous” and could worsen still if Israel’s operation in the city continues.

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