Israel Sets Deadline for Gaza Hostage Release Before Ramadan Offensive in Rafah

Israeli authorities have announced a decisive operation against Rafah in the upcoming month should the hostages still be held in Gaza by Ramadan’s onset, according to Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war Cabinet.

Gantz, who formerly served as the military’s chief of staff, emphasized during a conference for American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on February 18, “It’s imperative that the world, and Hamas’s leaders, understand—if our hostages are not returned by Ramadan, the conflict will expand to include Rafah.” Ramadan is anticipated to start on March 10.

This marks the first instance the Israeli government has set a clear deadline for its proposed offensive in Rafah, where the majority of the 1.7 million displaced Palestinians have found sanctuary. International calls, including from the US President Joe Biden, have been made to avert a humanitarian crisis in Rafah, the last major city in Gaza yet to be entered by ground forces amidst the ongoing four-month conflict. Despite global appeals for restraint, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed at the Jerusalem conference the necessity of continuing the offensive for a “total victory” over Hamas, irrespective of the hostage situation.