Yesterday, in the presence of the US Secretary of State in Doha, Qatar received the response of the Hamas movement to the prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Further negotiations, and the US minister said that Hamas's response is under review. He will discuss with Israeli officials today, noting that there is much work to be done. A deal is possible and necessary, he said. An extended truce offers the possibility for hostages to leave and more aid to Gaza.
After discussions with the Israelis, it will become clear today whether Anthony Blinken can share the confidence expressed by his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman II about the ceasefire agreement, but before Doha, Minister Blinken is stopped in Cairo. He noted the increasing Israeli pressure on the Rafah governorate in Gaza and the Egyptian concern over repeated bombings and airstrikes in areas inhabited by displaced people and border areas.
Despite the consensus between US and Egyptian officials on their assessment of the situation in Gaza, the question that was forcefully raised in Cairo and Gaza yesterday: Will cease-fire efforts succeed before the Israelis invade Lifa? Will this lead to a rush of displaced people towards Egyptian territory?
So since Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Monday that the next target for Khan Yunis is Rafah and the army, it is feared that Minister Blinken will see that Israel is moving towards ending the war rather than hoping for a ceasefire. Rafah will reach the last bastion of Hamas.
In addition to the move undermining ceasefire efforts, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned in a statement yesterday that indiscriminate shelling and incursions into densely populated areas in Rafah will cause numerous civilian casualties. A war crime under international humanitarian law.
However, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation cited sources as saying that residents of Gaza would be evacuated from the Rafah area before the start of military operations there. The corporation also indicated coordination with Egypt, but did not provide details.