Palestinian Hamas fighters are not safe from Israeli forces anywhere in Gaza – including in the last areas, such as the southern city of Rafah, where Israeli forces have not yet been deployed, Israel’s defence minister said.
“Any terrorist hiding in Rafah should know that he will end up just like those in Khan Younis and (the city of) Gaza,” Yoav Gallant said at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, Israeli media reported.
Gallant alluded to the fact that the army has smashed numerous Hamas combat units in Gaza City and Khan Younis, killing thousands of its fighters.
“A good half of Hamas terrorists are dead or seriously wounded,” he said, with 18 Hamas battalions routed and no longer existing as fighting units.
Gallant first mentioned a possible army advance on Rafah on Friday.
Rafah, where around 200,000 people lived before the war, is currently crowded with more than a million Palestinians who have fled the fighting from other parts of the Gaza Strip.
Rafah is on the border with Egypt. Cairo fears that military operations in the border town could lead to a rush of desperate Palestinians to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
At the same time, the Israeli military is pushing to take control of the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. It suspects that there are still tunnels running under the border through which Hamas could obtain supplies of weapons and other goods. Egypt denies this.