Even as Ceasefire is Underway, Israel’s Rafah Attack Shows War is Far From Over

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet have vowed to totally eliminate the Hamas whose last stronghold was Rafah.

4 min read

First, the good news. Hamas on 6 May, Monday, agreed to the ceasefire plan hammered out in Cairo. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh intimated about this to leaders in Qatar, Iran, and Turkiye, who have endorsed the decision.

Egypt and Qatar are said to have mediated the plan. The US has also approved of it. Israel, has, however, protested, saying there had been changes made to the original proposal which had not been communicated to it.

According to media reports, the proposal endorsed by Hamas includes three 42-day-long phases of a ceasefire, an influx of aid to Gaza, the return of 33 Israeli hostages, and the release of 30 detained Palestinian children and women by Israel for each Israeli hostage. 

The third phase includes the exchange of human remains on both sides and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip within 3-5 years. 

Israel’s Resistance Towards Proposal for a Truce

The draft calls for a total cessation of the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel, however, has not accepted the proposal, which it said had changes inserted to the original proposal, which were not communicated to it. The main stumbling blocks remain the decision over hostage release and permanent ceasefire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet have vowed to totally eliminate the Hamas whose last stronghold is said to be Rafah. This makes it imperative for Israel to launch an assault on Rafah. The main points and tunnel networks used for smuggling in weapons and men are through Rafah, which has a border crossing with Egypt.

As Israeli analysts have pointed out, Israel’s assault on Gaza is not actually "just beginning " – it has been on for at least the past couple of months with ariel bombardments.

On 6 May, Monday, Israeli troops seized the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza, disrupting the flow of aid into the Strip. Hamas accused Israel of trying to “exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the Strip by closing” the crossing.

Israel also says that Hamas' acceptance of the proposal came in order to stave off Rafah operations. However, Israeli officials, albeit at a less senior level, travelled to Cairo on Tuesday to continue discussions.

Will Israel Terminate Rafah Op?

There is huge pressure on PM Netanyahu to call off the Rafah operations. At the time of writing, reports said there was heavy fighting taking place between Israeli troops and Hamas militants in the east of Rafah.

Around 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, many of them uprooted and displaced from Northern Gaza when Israel began its military operations there. Israel has been distributing leaflets to the residents to leave. But aid agencies and Palestinians say there is nowhere for them to go as Egypt has refused to take in immigrants from the Strip.

On 7 May, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement, calling on the Israeli government to stop any escalation. Earlier on in February, the Norwegian Refugee Council called it a "gigantic refugee camp".

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates, the population of Gaza currently is six times more than it was when Israel launched its Gaza assault in October last year in response to Hamas' brutal assault on Israel on 7 October 2023, which killed 1200 people and saw the abduction of 253 Israelis.

Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have all called on Israel not to proceed with its Rafah operations. Even the US was reluctant to have Israeli troops enter Rafah. According to a Reuters report, quoting a US official, the US has even halted a shipment of powerful bombs to Israel, in order to deter an Israeli offensive in Gaza and give ceasefire talks more time.

The situation is dire. According to the Hamas-run health ministry, 34,000 civilians have lost their lives in Gaza and at least half of them are women and children. Healthcare is almost non-existent, and in March, the UN warned that at least 576,000 people in Gaza – one-quarter of the population – were one step away from famine.


Netanyahu's Move Divides Israelis 

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell recently said, the Israeli military offensive in Rafah will again cause a great many civilian casualties.

Germany, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Finland, and France have all voiced concern and opposition to Israel's invasion of Gaza. Countries of the Global South, India included, have long been calling for de-escalation of the conflict and a ceasefire.

Most poignantly, Israelis themselves have protested against Israel's Rafah plans. As news broke in of Hamas' acceptance of the ceasefire plan, Palestinians in Rafah erupted in cheers. In Israel too, families of hostages held in Gaza urged the US and other governments with citizens among the captives to pressurise Israel to strike a deal with the Hamas for their return.

Israelis have long been protesting the war with many saying that the Rafah operation is only necessary for Netanyahu's political survival, as exactly seven months since its launch, Israel has yet to free all hostages taken by the Hamas.

Yet, Israel seems determined to press on. It says its operations in Rafah are to destroy Hamas completely, and alleges that Hamas has agreed to the ceasefire now only in order to stave off the Israeli operations there.

This may quite be true. Because till now, no number of civilians killed or houses flattened were enough for the Hamas to agree to a ceasefire proposal.

While 16 civilians were killed on the first day of Israel's incursion into Rafah, the Israeli Defense Forces said that their troops have killed several gunmen and located tunnel shafts during operations in Eastern Rafah over the past day.

The Israeli media also reported that the US signals backing for "limited op" after the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) takes over the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing, which means the US may after all allow Israel some action in Rafah.

What will probably happen is that Israel may conduct a limited operation in Rafah even as ceasefire negotiations continue in Cairo.

Negotiations may be expected to continue till such time that Israel wraps up its Rafah operations. Then we will have a deal. Eliminating Hamas, however, may need a much longer time and action other than military ones.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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