Ministers say rocket barrage from Rafah proves need for IDF operation in city

Gantz declares: ‘The IDF must operate in every place Hamas still operates from’; Smotrich calls to ‘capture all of Rafah, full force, now’

Rockets are seen launched at Israel from the Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024. (Courtesy: via @IDF on X)
Rockets are seen launched at Israel from the Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024. (Courtesy: via @IDF on X)

After Hamas fired a barrage of rockets on Sunday from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, triggering air raid sirens across central Israel, several ministers pointed to the attack as evidence that the IDF must continue to operate in the city.

“The rockets shot from Rafah today prove that the IDF must operate in every place Hamas still operates from, and as such, the IDF will continue to operate wherever necessary,” declared Minister Benny Gantz, a member of the narrow war cabinet, in a video message from the Urim IDF base.

“The world must know: Those who still hold our hostages captive, shoot at our cities, and continue to propagate terror are responsible for the situation,” Gantz added. “Terrorist Hamas are war criminals, and we intend on making them pay for their crimes – whether sooner or later.”

The barrage of rockets, which damaged a home in Herzliya and lightly wounded two people, came less than 48 hours after the International Court of Justice issued a ruling calling on Israel to halt operations in Rafah, “which may inflict on the Palestinian group conditions of life that would bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The IDF pushed into Rafah earlier this month in what it initially described as a pinpoint operation against Hamas in the eastern part of the city. The IDF has been mostly operating at the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt and along more than half of the so-called Philadelphi Corridor, the border area separating Egypt and Gaza.

The operation in Rafah, which the military asserts is Hamas’s last major stronghold, has since expanded deeper into the city. The IDF said last week it had also begun to operate against Hamas in the Brazi and Shaboura neighborhoods, which are about halfway between the Israeli border to the southeast and the sea in the northwest.

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in an image cleared for publication on May 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Following the rocket attack, far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on the IDF to charge ahead with taking full control of Rafah.

“The entrance into Rafah is very important,” Smotrich said. “I pushed for it, and Hamas’s response, to fire on central Israel, is a function of their being under pressure, they feel the pressure of the IDF on their neck.”

“Capture all of Rafah, full force, now,” Smotrich wrote. He called for “full IDF control of the entire Gaza Strip,” writing: “Only that way will we restore our security. Only that way will we bring back our hostages.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, posted on X simply: “Rafah! Full force!”

MK Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party — which joined the government at the start of the war and left for the opposition in March — wrote on X: “We must strengthen and accelerate the IDF operation in Rafah!”

Sa’ar added, “There is no state in the world that wouldn’t operate in the place from which missiles were fired at their cities, and where their citizens are being held hostage.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with Israeli soldiers in Rafah on Sunday morning, telling them, “Our goal in the Gaza Strip has become much clearer here in Rafah — to eliminate Hamas, bring back the hostages, and maintain freedom of action.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with IDF officers in southern Gaza’s Rafah, May 26, 2024 (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

In Rafah, on Sunday, Gallant told troops that Israel is “making tremendous efforts… in every possible way” to return the hostages, “both physically and by reaching deals.”

The United States originally expressed its opposition to an IDF invasion of Rafah, citing the toll it could take on Palestinian civilians sheltering from fighting further north.

Nearly one million Palestinians have evacuated from the Rafah area in recent weeks, however, leaving only some 300,000 to 400,000 in the areas closest to the coast, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

American officials have reportedly been satisfied with Israel’s more limited operations thus far.

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