Israeli cabinet announce March 10 as deadline for Gaza ground offensive in Rafah

Israeli cabinet member Benny Gantz issued a stark ultimatum, warning Hamas to release all hostages held in Gaza by March 10 or face a potential offensive in Rafah.

This statement marks the first time Israel has specified a potential timeline for military intervention in the densely populated southern city of Gaza. However, the prospect of such an offensive has sparked widespread opposition globally, particularly due to the precarious situation of approximately 1.5 million Palestinians residing in Rafah.

The tension escalated after reports emerged that a key hospital in Gaza had ceased functioning following an Israeli raid. The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern as they were denied access to assess the situation at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, near Rafah. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) defended their actions, stating they entered the hospital complex based on intelligence suggesting Hamas-held hostages were being kept there. Describing the operation as "precise and limited," the IDF accused Hamas of using hospitals for nefarious purposes.

Speaking on the matter, Gantz, a former defense minister, underscored the gravity of the situation, emphasizing that if hostages are not released by the onset of Ramadan on March 10, hostilities would persist. He pledged coordinated efforts with American and Egyptian partners to minimize civilian casualties and facilitate civilian evacuations if necessary.

The Israeli war cabinet, comprised of top security officials, was convened in response to a deadly attack by Hamas-led gunmen on October 7, which resulted in numerous casualties and hostage-taking. Despite international pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast in his commitment to launch a ground assault on Rafah if Hamas does not comply.

Internationally, concerns are mounting over the humanitarian impact of a potential offensive in Rafah. Egypt and other Arab nations have warned against such action, fearing an influx of Palestinian refugees into Egyptian territory. Efforts to broker a ceasefire have been underway in Cairo, albeit with limited progress. Despite the fact that Israeli officials sent negotiators in response to US President Joe Biden's request, Israeli officials found Hamas's demands to be unrealistic, which prevented further negotiations.

As the deadline approaches and tensions escalate, the situation remains precarious, with both sides entrenched in their positions and the specter of violence looming large over Rafah and the broader Gaza Strip.

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