Netanyahu promises 'safe passage' to Rafah civilians, disputes Gaza toll
February 11, 2024 10:37 PM
Israel will push into Rafah in southern Gaza despite widespread concerns over the potential toll, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a television interview aired Sunday, vowing to provide "safe passage" for civilians out of the overcrowded city.
"Victory is within reach. We're going to do it. We're going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion," Netanyahu told ABC News, in an extract of the "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" interview released Saturday evening.
Despite international alarm over the potential for carnage in a place crammed with more than half of the Gaza Strip's 2.4 million people, Netanyahu said: "We're going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population."
It remains unclear however, where the large number of people pressed up against the border with Egypt, many sheltering in makeshift tents, would go.
Gaza's Hamas rulers have warned of potentially "tens of thousands" of casualties in Rafah, while EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell joined other international voices in saying an offensive there "would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe."
Israel's main backer, the United States, has said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that, if not properly planned, such an operation risks "disaster."
When pressed about where the population was supposed to go, Netanyahu said: "You know, the areas that we've cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there. But, we are working out a detailed plan."
"Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, 'Lose the war. Keep Hamas there,'" said the prime minister.
The health ministry in Gaza says the massive Israeli offensive since October 7 has killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children.
But Netanyahu asserted on ABC that the civilian toll, as a share of total deaths, was dramatically smaller.
"I can tell you that according to these urban warfare experts and other commentators, we've brought down the civilian-to-terrorist casualty, the ratio, down to below 1-to-1 ... And we're going to do more."
He said Israeli forces had "killed and wounded over 20,000 Hamas terrorists, out of that, about 12,000... fighters." Netanyahu did not specify how he differentiated "terrorists" and "fighters."
Israel last provided such figures on January 9, when it said that around 9,000 Hamas fighters had been killed.
Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
In early January, the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had "repeatedly highlighted Israel's recurring failures to uphold the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law: distinction, proportionality, and precautions in carrying out attacks."
US President Joe Biden, in his strongest criticism of Israel yet, on Thursday described the Israeli military response as "over the top."
Netanyahu told ABC News he appreciated Biden's "support for Israel since the beginning of the war," but that he did not "know exactly what he meant by that."