Could Israel's offensive in the densely populated Palestinian town of Rafah further destabilize the region?
Citing two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat, the Associated Press reported Sunday that — Egypt is threatening to suspend a peace deal with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into the town of Rafah.
All three officials confirmed Egypt's threats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters on the sensitive negotiations.
The US-brokered Camp David Accords were signed in 1978 by Israel and Egypt which had fought five wars before the treaty.
Israel's Prime Minister said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the war in Gaza which has already killed over 27,000 Palestinians.
The souther town of Rafah, located in the Gaza Strip, borders Egypt.
Saudi Arabia among other countries has warned of severe repercussions if the town becomes the target of Israeli troops.
The town, normally home to less than 300,000 people, now hosts some 1.4 million, thousnads fleeing fighting.
Israel's campaign was launched after the Octobr 7th attack by Palestinian Hamas militants. from carried an attack in Israel killing around 1,200 people and abducted around 250.
Over 100 hostages were released in November during a weeklong cease-fire in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Fears of forced displacement
Netanyahu, in an interview aired Sunday (Feb. 11) with ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” suggested civilians in Rafah could flee north, saying there are “plenty of areas" that have been cleared by the army. He said Israel is developing a “detailed plan” to relocate them.
Egypt has heavily fortified its border with Gaza, carving out a 5-kilometer (3-mile) buffer zone and erecting concrete walls above and below ground. It has denied Israeli allegations that Hamas still operates smuggling tunnels beneath the border, saying Egyptian forces have full control on their side.
Egypt fears an expansion of combat to the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, a scenario Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.
The nation has repeatedly refused to accept what it calls the transfer of Israel's responsibility as an occupying power, including to "provide for the safety of civilians" living under its occupation.
The United Nations says Rafah, which is normally home to less than 300,000 people, now hosts 1.4 million more who fled fighting elsewhere and is “severely overcrowded.”
Netanayahu said Hamas still has four battalions there. “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war, keep Hamas there,” he told ABC News.
Palestinian toll mounts
Israel has ordered much of Gaza's population to flee south with evacuation orders covering two-thirds of the territory, even as it regularly carries out airstrikes in all areas, including Rafah. Airstrikes on the town in recent days have killed dozens of Palestinians, including women and children.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday (Feb. 11) that the bodies of 112 people killed across the territory have been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours, as well as 173 wounded people. The fatalities brought the death toll in the strip to 28,176 since the start of the war. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters but says most of those killed were women and children.
Hamas has said it won't release any more unless Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from the territory. It has also demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants serving life sentences.
Netanyahu has vehemently ruled out both demands, saying Israel will fight on until “total victory” and the return of all the captives.