Egyptian FM: Goal is to 'eliminate the ideology behind Hamas'

US signals veto in Security Council Gaza vote as Egypt braces for IDF Rafah operation

Washington says Algerian resolution could jeopardize ‘sensitive’ temporary truce talks; Gal Hirsch: Hamas using displaced Palestinians in south Gaza as ‘human shields’

Displaced Palestinians camp near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt, on February 16, 2024, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Displaced Palestinians camp near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt, on February 16, 2024, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The United States has signaled that it will veto an upcoming vote in the 15-member United Nation Security Council demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the ongoing war in Gaza, as Egypt prepares for Israel’s planned operation in Rafah.

Algeria put forward an initial draft resolution more than two weeks ago, but US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the text could jeopardize “sensitive negotiations” aimed at brokering a pause in the war, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

Algeria requested on Saturday that the council vote on Tuesday, diplomats said. To be adopted, the UNSC resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, China or Russia.

“The United States does not support action on this draft resolution. Should it come up for a vote as drafted, it will not be adopted,” the US ambassador said in a statement on Saturday.

Washington traditionally shields Israel from UN action and has already twice vetoed Security Council resolutions since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, when thousands of Hamas terrorists stormed the border with Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253 people, mostly civilians. But it has also abstained twice, allowing the council to adopt resolutions that aimed to boost humanitarian aid to Gaza and called for urgent and extended pauses in fighting.

Talks between the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar are ongoing to seek a pause in the war and the release of the remaining 130 hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7 — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and several hostages were released at other times.

“It is critical that other parties give this process the best odds of succeeding, rather than push measures that put it — and the opportunity for an enduring resolution of hostilities — in jeopardy,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The likely council vote comes as Israel plans to storm Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where over a million people have sought refuge, prompting international concern of a sharp worsening of the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

Displaced Palestinians stand outside their tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday that while his country would deal with civilians humanely if an Israeli military offensive into Rafah prompts an exodus across the frontier, the displacement of Palestinians remained unacceptable.

“It is not our intention to provide any safe areas or facilities, but necessarily if this was a case we will deal with the humanity that is necessary,” Shoukry said at the Munich Security Conference.

Shoukry also commented, when asked about the legitimacy of Hamas, that the terror group is outside of the Palestinian consensus, according to Ahram Online.

“The goal we can achieve is to eliminate the ideology behind Hamas and propose alternatives that respond to the aspirations of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples,” he was quoted as saying.

Reuters reported on Friday that Egypt was preparing an area at the Gaza border that could accommodate Palestinians in case of a rush on the border, though Cairo Egypt has repeatedly denied making such contingency plans.

“This is very hypothetical. We have constantly been dealing with maintenance on our border so I think it is jumping to conclusions to what those activities constitute,” Shoukry said of construction activity seen around the border.

Separately, the governor of North Sinai said on Saturday that Egypt’s armed forces were establishing a logistics zone to receive aid for Gaza, including parking areas for trucks, warehouses, administrative offices, and accommodation for drivers.

Egypt has repeatedly raised the alarm over the possibility that Israel’s Gaza offensive could displace Palestinians into Sinai — something Cairo says would be completely unacceptable — echoing warnings from other Arab states such as Jordan.

Displaced Palestinians walk next to the border fence between Gaza and Egypt, on February 16, 2024 in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing wart between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas terror group. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Saturday reiterated Cairo’s opposition to any forced displacement into the Sinai desert, in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron in which both leaders agreed on the “necessity of the swift advancement of a ceasefire.”

The languishing efforts to pause the four-month-old war came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Saturday to reject international appeals to scrap plans for an operation in Rafah.

“Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us: ‘Lose the war.’ I won’t let that happen,” Netanyahu vowed at an evening press conference in Jerusalem. “We won’t capitulate to any pressure.”

Israel’s point man on hostages, Gal Hirsh, told CNN on Sunday that the operation in Gaza’s southernmost city “is next of course, because in Rafah there are many hostages and many terror groups. Actually Hamas is still there.”

He said that while Israel does “everything possible” to avoid civilian casualties, there are “many, many” Palestinians currently taking shelter in Rafah, whom “Hamas is using right now as human shields.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem, February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We want a deal, very much,” he said. “And we know we need to pay prices. But Hamas’s demands are disconnected from reality, delusional.”

Hirsh also raised doubts that the Hamas sources making demands in talks were not in touch with the terror group’s operatives on the ground in Gaza who are holding the hostages.

“I very much want to see the proof,” he said. “Such proof can be, for example, show us that the medical support that was sent to our hostages has arrived to its destination.”

Hirsh was referring to a deal announced by Qatar in mid January according to which medications were supposed to be supplied to the hostages in return for a large amount of medical supplies and other aid for Gazans.

Meanwhile, Palestinian medics and witnesses in Gaza said Israeli strikes in Khan Younis, Rafah and Gaza City killed at least 18 people overnight and into Sunday.

An airstrike in Rafah overnight reportedly killed six people, including a woman and three children, and another strike killed five men in Khan Younis, the main target of the offensive over the past two months. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies arrive at a hospital in Rafah.

This picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the distance following Israeli strike on the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Said Khatib / AFP)

In Gaza City, which was isolated and largely evacuated since the initial weeks of the war, an airstrike flattened a family home, killing seven people, including three women, according to Sayed al-Afifi, a relative of the deceased.

The IDF rarely comments on individual strikes and blames civilian casualties on Hamas because its fighters operate in dense residential areas.

On Sunday morning, the IDF said that troops killed dozens of Hamas operatives across the Gaza Strip over the past day, as special forces continued to search the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, after IDF troops entered the building on Thursday saying they had information that hostages had been held there and that some bodies of dead hostages may still be at the site.

More than 100 terror suspects have been arrested at the medical center so far, and weapons have been found, the army said on Sunday morning, adding that another 15 Hamas operatives were killed and a weapons depot destroyed in a series of airstrikes in the city.

Troops operate in Gaza, in a handout image cleared for publication by the IDF on February 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed at least 10 Hamas operatives during the past day, including by calling in airstrikes.

Gaza health authorities say more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel declared war on October 7, vowing to destroy Hamas and eliminate its military and governance capabilities.

The figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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