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Israel still plans to mount an offensive against Hamas at the Rafah border


Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says his government won't be swayed by international pressure and is still making plans for an offensive in southern Gaza, in the town of Rafah, for the stated goal of eliminating Hamas.


But Rafah is where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians have fled, squeezed up against the Egyptian border. It's the last place so many have sought refuge from the Israeli military campaign, and much of the world is warning against the invasion because of the toll it will take on civilians.

MARTÍNEZ: For more on this, we called on NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, we've been hearing about a possible Israeli operation in Rafah for weeks now, for a couple of weeks. How likely is it, and where would people go if this happens?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Yeah. The Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, says this is still his intent, that he won't allow any part of the Hamas military force to survive in Gaza. He says that would essentially be a win for Hamas and a loss for Israel. Now, Netanyahu has called for both a military plan and a blueprint to evacuate these more than 1 million civilians, most of them living in tents. But there's been no word of such a plan, and it would be extremely complicated. So the thinking is, before any Israeli military operation takes place, we're likely to see efforts to evacuate civilians on a large scale. We're not seeing that now, and many of these displaced say they simply have nowhere else to go.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, after more than four months of this, how much damage has the Israeli military done on Hamas?

MYRE: Well, it's been quite considerable. Israeli officials estimate - and this is just an estimate - about 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed and a similar number injured. We can't independently confirm this, and Hamas refuses to give figures. But if accurate or reasonably so, this is probably half or more of the Hamas fighters. We've also seen an almost complete halt to the Hamas rocket fire coming out of Gaza into Israel. But Hamas shouldn't be underestimated. This is the analysis of Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel.

CHUCK FREILICH: We've been so surprised by their capabilities since the war began - a vast, vast tunnel network, which is just mind-boggling, their rocket capability. I would be cautious in saying that they probably don't have too much in Gaza. They may have, and they have a lot more than we thought.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Greg, given all that, I mean, what's the war looking like on a day-to-day basis in Gaza?

MYRE: So we're seeing the Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles continuing to gain ground, but they're still facing resistance from Hamas. Israel says this is largely small-scale resistance. Hamas is no longer fighting in larger organized unit, and the main fighting is in the southern city of Khan Younis. Israel says it's in control but not full control. Khan Younis is about 7 miles north of Rafah. This is the distance separating the main Israeli force from the last major stronghold of Hamas, as well as all those displaced Palestinians.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Benjamin Netanyahu says his goal is to destroy Hamas militarily and politically. So far, does that seem realistic?

MYRE: Well, on the military side, Israel has made progress. It controls most of Gaza. It says it's defeated 18 of the 24 Hamas battalions. So if accurate, that means Hamas has been badly weakened but not destroyed. On the political side, the Hamas leadership, both internal leaders in Gaza and external leaders, are still intact. And the group has long had public support in Gaza, so it seems politically, it's still reasonably strong.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: Sure thing, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.