Israel to enter Rafah 'with or without' Gaza truce: Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Israeli military will launch a ground offensive in Rafah "with or without" a truce with Hamas in Gaza.

"The idea that we will halt the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there with or without a deal, in order to achieve the total victory," Netanyahu told representatives of hostages' families, according to a statement issued by his office.

His remarks came after cautious hopes were building for a Gaza truce and hostage release deal as Hamas said it was studying the latest proposal.

The Palestinian group said it was considering a plan for a 40-day ceasefire and the release of scores of hostages for larger numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

The Islamist group, whose envoys returned from Cairo talks to their base in Qatar, would "discuss the ideas and the proposal," said a Hamas source, adding that "we are keen to respond as quickly as possible.”

Sources in Egypt told Al-Qahera News, a site linked to Egyptian intelligence services, that Hamas envoys were due to "return with a written response.”

Meanwhile, a top Israeli official said the government will wait until today night for a Hamas response to the Gaza truce proposal before deciding whether to send envoys to Cairo for ceasefire talks.

"Israel will make a decision once Hamas provides their answer," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that "we will wait for answers until Wednesday night and then decide.”

Facing strong criticism abroad and rising fury on U.S. university campuses, U.S. President Joe Biden urged the Egyptian and Qatari leaders on April 29 "to exert all efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.”

Biden called this "the only obstacle" to securing relief for civilians who have been trapped for almost seven months in the bloodiest Gaza war.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Tuesday voiced concern over heavy-handed steps taken to disperse and dismantle pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses in the United States.

"I am concerned that some of law enforcement actions across a series of universities appear disproportionate in their impact," said U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk.

Aid still suspended

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday that $267 million in its funding was still suspended over allegations some UNRWA staff participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The accusations in January led to many donors freezing some $450 million in funding at a time when Gaza's 2.3 million people are in dire need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

Many countries have since resumed their donations, while others have not -- including the United States, which passed a law blocking funding until at least March 2025.

"It's money we were aware which was committed and which remains suspended for the agency. The total amount is $267 million. The bulk of it comes from the United States," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told a press conference in Geneva.

He said that up to 16 countries had suspended contributions to UNRWA following the allegations in January but as of Tuesday, "most of the donor countries have resumed their contribution to the agency.

"We just have a handful of countries that still need to make a decision," he said, citing Britain and Austria among them.

Switzerland is due to take a decision on whether to resume support on Wednesday.

Lazzarini said countries which had never donated to UNRWA before were now coming forward with contributions, including Algeria.

Over the last six months, more than $115 million had also been raised in private donations, "which is an indication of the extraordinary grassroots solidarity expressed towards Palestinians and also to the agency", he added.

He said the agency had the money to keep running until the end of June, but noted that during his tenure since 2020, the agency had rarely been able to look more than two to three months ahead financially.

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