Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the country's army to prepare an offensive on the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. "It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas if four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah," he said through the prime minister's office. The plans that the military leadership should present to the government must also include the evacuation of civilians in Rafah, the statement said.
A military offensive in Rafah, which lies in the very south of the Gaza Strip and borders Egypt, is considered highly problematic. The town, which had around 300,000 inhabitants before the war, is now said to be home to 1.3 million people. Most of them fled there from other parts of the Gaza Strip before the war, partly on orders from the Israeli military.
“It is clear that intense (military) activity in Rafah requires civilians to vacate the combat zone,” Netanyahu said. He therefore instructed the military leadership to present the government with a "combined plan" for the evacuation of the population and the destruction of the Hamas battalions.
Abbas calls on the UN Security Council to act
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has strongly condemned plans for a military offensive in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Abbas, speaking at his official residence in Ramallah in the West Bank, said these would represent a "dangerous prelude" to a policy of displacement feared by Palestinians.
Abbas accused Israel and its ally USA of “destructive policies”. He called on the UN Security Council to take action. "These steps (considered by Israel) endanger security and peace in the region, they cross all red lines," he added. Abbas is the head of the Palestinian Authority. This administers parts of the West Bank on the basis of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres had previously warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and consequences for the entire region. Half of the Gaza Strip's population is crammed into Rafah and has nowhere else to go, he wrote on the news platform X, formerly Twitter. Guterres' spokesman Stéphane Dujarric added after the Israeli government's announcements on Friday that they did not want to see mass expulsions. The US government and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have also spoken out clearly against military action in Rafah in recent days.
Demonstrations in Israel over a possible hostage agreement
Meanwhile, in Israel, a number of people demonstrated for and against a possible hostage agreement with Hamas. In Jerusalem, thousands protested against negotiations with Israel's enemies and for a continuation of the Gaza war, several Israeli media reported. At the same time, hundreds of people in Tel Aviv protested for a deal to secure the release of the hostages still held in the Gaza Strip.
Israel's war cabinet met in the evening to discuss a possible deal with Hamas. Demonstrators accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of taking his political survival more seriously than the fate of the hostages. Netanyahu's right-wing extremist coalition members are now threatening to collapse the government coalition if the prime minister makes concessions to Hamas as part of a hostage deal.
Report: Contact with Hamas boss Sinwar is said to have been broken off
According to an Israeli media report, high-ranking Hamas members have had no contact with the leader of the Islamist organization in the Gaza Strip for several weeks. Jihia al-Sinwar was also not involved in Hamas's recent response to Israel to an international mediation proposal for a hostage agreement, Israeli broadcaster Kan reported. Accordingly, Sinwar fears that his hiding place in the Gaza Strip could be discovered through surveillance of any communications. The information cannot be independently verified.
EU military operation: Area should also include the sea off Iran
The EU naval operation in the Middle East, which is about to begin, could also protect merchant ships from possible threats from Iran. According to information from the dpa, the decision for Operation Aspides shows that European warships are to be deployed not only in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but also in the Strait of Hormuz as well as in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to accompany merchant ships can. All three of these sea areas lie off the coast of Iran. The primary aim of the EU operation is to protect merchant ships from attacks by the militant Islamist Houthis from Yemen.
Israel's army attacks Hezbollah commander in Lebanon
The Israeli armed forces say they have attacked a high-ranking Hezbollah commander from the air in southern Lebanon. The army said this was a response to rocket launches from Lebanon towards Israel, in which, according to the military, Israel was said to have been involved. The Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia reported several injuries from the Israeli airstrike. One person is in “critical condition”. An Israeli drone directly hit a car in the town of Nabatieh, Lebanese security circles said. There were two people in the car.
Criticism of military deployment in hospital
An Israeli military operation in a hospital in the occupied West Bank may have been a serious violation of international humanitarian law, according to independent UN experts. On January 29, the military announced the killing of three Palestinians who they said were militants at Ibn Sina Hospital in Jenin. Video footage from the hospital showed how the special forces entered the clinic, some disguised as medical staff. According to the UN experts, they went to the rehabilitation area and shot the three men there. At least one of them was a patient, reported the experts in Geneva appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.
At most, the men should have been arrested, she said. Violence was only permitted in cases of danger to life and limb. "Instead, Israel decided to murder them, blatantly violating their right to life," the experts said. The killing of a defenseless patient being treated in a hospital constitutes a war crime. They called on Israel to investigate the incident and hold those who violated international humanitarian law accountable.