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Palestinian children play on a sand dune overlooking a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli troops would pursue a planned ground offensive is southern Gaza’s Rafah that has spurred fears of mass civilian casualties.

“No amount of international pressure will stop us from realising all the goals of the war... To do this, we will also operate in Rafah,” Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting according to a video released by his office.

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Netanyahu said Israel’s allies have a short memory regarding Hamas’ October 7 attack, and that Israel would push on with its Gaza offensive despite growing international pressure.

“To our friends in the international community I say: is your memory so short? So quickly you forgot about Oct. 7, the worst massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust?” Netanyahu said.

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“So quickly you are ready to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the monsters of Hamas?” Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would push on with its offensive in Gaza, including in the city of Rafah, while evacuating civilians from combat zones.

On Saturday, head of the World Health Organisation on Saturday appealed to Israel “in the name of humanity” not to launch an assault on Rafah, where most of Gaza’s population is sheltering.

“I’m gravely concerned about reports of an Israeli plan to proceed with a ground assault on Rafah,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“Further escalation of violence in this densely populated area would lead to many more deaths and suffering,” he added.

“In the name of humanity, we appeal to Israel not to proceed and instead to work towards peace.”

An evacuation planned by the Israeli army ahead of launching its assault was not a practical solution, he argued.

“The 1.2 million people in Rafah do not have anywhere safe to move to.

“There are no fully functional, safe health facilities that they can reach elsewhere in Gaza,” he said. “Many people are too fragile, hungry and sick to be moved again...

“This humanitarian catastrophe must not be allowed to worsen.”

The United Nations and the United States have also repeatedly warned against such a military operation.

Netanyahu has for weeks vowed to continue the war, having promised to destroy Hamas in the wake of the October 7 attack by Islamist militants.

The Hamas attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Israel has carried out relentless bombardment and a ground invasion in response that has killed at least 31,553 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.