Israel denied reports on Monday that it had agreed to halt fire in the southern Gaza Strip to allow the Rafah crossing to open, as the United States and international mediators appeared closer to reaching a deal for the opening of the border with Egypt to allow aid into the Strip and for foreigners to exit.
“At the moment there is no ceasefire for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and the exit of foreigners,” said a terse statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
The statement came after the Reuters news agency, citing two Egyptian security officials, said Israel had agreed to halt fire from 9 a.m. in a deal with Egypt and the US.
Israel declared war on the Hamas terror group after waves of gunmen from Gaza crossed the border on October 7, killing over 1,300 people in Israel, most of them civilians.
The military said Monday it had also notified the families of 199 people who have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza. The hostages include many civilians — among them babies, children and the elderly — along with soldiers.
After it suffered the deadliest attack in its history, Israel unleashed a relentless bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground operation with the aim of eradicating Hamas, and told more than 1 million Palestinians — almost half the territory’s population — to move from the north of the enclave to the south.
Several Likud ministers were vehemently opposed to the reported US-brokered temporary truce.
Energy Minister Israel Katz said he “bitterly opposes the opening of the blockade and the introduction of goods into Gaza on humanitarian grounds.”
“Our commitment is to the families of the murdered and kidnapped hostages — not to the Hamas murderers and those who helped them,” he said.
Culture Minister Miki Zohar also objected: “Those who massacre children, rape women and kidnap babies do not deserve any mercy.”
For a third day Monday, the Israel Defense Forces announced a safe corridor for people to move from north to south between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, and said more than 600,000 people have already evacuated the Gaza City area.
The military repeated its warning to northern Gaza residents that they should “rest assured that Hamas leaders have taken care of themselves and their family members.”
The IDF says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign in the north of the enclave, where the terrorists have extensive networks of tunnels and rocket launchers.
However, Hamas has urged people to stay in their homes, and the Israeli military has released photos it said showed a Hamas roadblock preventing traffic from moving south.
The military’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Monday the Hamas terror group was continuing to prevent Palestinians from evacuating from the northern part of the Gaza Strip, after the IDF warned it would soon heavily bomb the area.
“Hamas prevents the residents of Gaza from moving to the south of the Strip. Hamas has proven its cruelty to the residents of Israel and now it is doing so to the residents of Gaza City,” Hagari said in a press conference.
With the enclave’s supplies dwindling, Israel said on Sunday that it was restarting the supply of water to the southern portion of Strip.
“The decision to restart water to the south of the Gaza Strip was agreed upon between Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and US President [Joe] Biden, and will push the civilian population to the southern [part of the] Strip,” Katz said.
Israel has massed forces outside Gaza in preparation for what the army has said would be a land, air and sea attack involving a “significant ground operation.”
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said 2,670 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 wounded in Israeli retaliatory bombardments since the fighting erupted.
It was unclear how many of those were killed by rockets misfiring and landing in the Strip.
Israel has said the bodies of 1,500 terrorists had been located around southern Israel.
US President Joe Biden said in an interview with the CBS news program “60 Minutes” on Sunday that “taking out the extremists” was needed, but any move by Israel to occupy Gaza would be a “big mistake.”
Hamas backer Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, which is also supported by Tehran, have warned that an invasion of Gaza would be met with a response.
The US has sent two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean as a deterrent.
“No one can guarantee the control of the situation and the non-expansion of the conflicts” if Israel sends its soldiers into Gaza, said Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Sunday.
Fire along the Israeli-Lebanese border has intensified in the last week, prompting Israel to evacuate civilians from communities near its northern border as well as southern.
Tens of thousands of Israelis, at the very least, are internally displaced as a result of the fighting, which includes ongoing rocket fire toward southern and central Israel.