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With or without a cease-fire, Netanyahu says Israeli operation in Rafah will happen

Police in Tel Aviv, Israel, use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, and calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, on Saturday.
Ohad Zwigenberg
Police in Tel Aviv, Israel, use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, and calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, on Saturday.

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. officials are signalling progresson negotiations around a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying the outlines of a deal have come into shape.

Speaking Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Sullivan said that representatives from Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, who met in Paris last week, had come to "an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary cease-fire would look like."

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more circumspect in an interview with Face the Nation on CBS, saying it remains unclear if a new cease-fire deal can be reached with Hamas that would bring the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinians prisoners.

He added that Hamas needed to "come down to a reasonable situation," but did not offer any details on the areas of disagreement.

An Egyptian official close to the talks who spoke to NPR has confirmed that Israel will participate in the next stage of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, intended to continue discussions around a six-week cease-fire.

If an agreement can be reached, this would be the second cease-fire since Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials. Israel's military response has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The fate of Rafah

In a Saturday poston X, formerly known as Twitter, Netanyahu said he's also meeting with his cabinet this week to "approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there."

Rafah, on the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, is where over a million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering for weeks.

"Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war's objectives," Netanyahu wrote.

He told CBS that a military operation in Rafah is inevitable and aimed at taking out the remaining Hamas battalions that he says are still there.

"If we have a deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen. If we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway," saidthe prime minister about military action in Rafah.

According to a statement from Netanyahu's office, Israel's war cabinet reviewed plans for the military operation and evacuation of civilians in places where fighting is taking place, possibly including Rafah.

Benny Gantz, a member of Netanyahu's war cabinet, last week said that if Hamas doesn't release hostages taken from Israel by the start of the holy month of Ramadan, around March 10, then "the fighting will continue everywhere, to include the Rafah area."

Rafah has been the target of several Israeli strikes over the past two weeks, including one that hit the home of a family in the Al Shaboura neighborhood of Rafah, killing seven and wounding 18. NPR producer Anas Baba witnessed surviving family members searching the debris for whatever necessities they could salvage, as neighbors helped them dig out and carry out the remains of those killed.

People in Rafah are dealing with acute shortages of food, water and medicine. Many are living in makeshift tents, with United Nations humanitarian agencies saying that getting enough aid into Gaza and distributing it are problematic.

According to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, 500 truckloads of aid are needed to meet the basic needs of Palestinians. Less than half that amount has been gettingin since Oct. 7. The most that has ever gotten in is 300 trucks, according to U.N. figures. Additionally, the World Food Program last week said it was pausing aid distribution in northern Gaza due to security issues.

UNICEF, the U.N. agency advocating for the protection of children, says thatone in six children under the age of 2 in Gaza are "acutely malnourished."

Palestinian government offers resignation

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the resignation of his government on Monday. The move is intended to create a pathway to a new technocratic government to oversee the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority, which has governed parts of the occupied West Bank since the 1990s, hasn't had control over the Gaza Strip since Hamas defeated rival Palestinian faction Fatah for control of the Gaza Strip in fighting in 2007.

But both the the Palestinian Authority - which is dominated by Fatah, a secular party - and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are unpopularamong Palestinians, who see them as riddled by corruption.

Even if Abbas accepts the resignation of Shtayyeh's government, the matter of creating a new one, bringing various factions together, will be complex. But forming a new technocratic government to run Gaza — one not controlled by Hamas — is what the U.S. and Israel want.

Protests in Israel

Pressure is mounting on Netanyahu and his government to bring back the hostages. There have been steady anti-government demonstrations in Israel — with protesters including relatives of hostages — since the start of the war. But Saturday night saw a crowd of thousandsin Tel Aviv.

Police clashed with demonstrators, deployed water cannons and officers on horse back to disperse the crowd. At lease 18 people were arrested, according to the Associated Press. Protests were also held in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu on Friday released what he called a "Day After Hamas" plan, which included an Israeli military presences in Gaza for an indefinite period of time, and a buffer zone inside Gaza along the fence separating the enclave from Israel.

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D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.