President Joe Biden has warned Israel against launching a military operation in Rafah, southern Gaza, without a “credible” plan to protect civilians, the White House said on Sunday.
Mr Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday amid Israel’s plans for an offensive in the region that borders Egypt, to the south of the strip.
Despite the call, however, Mr Netanyahu appeared defiant during an interview with ABC News on Sunday.
Speaking to the US network he said: “We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah.”
Mr Netanyahu said the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) believe there are four Hamas cells operating inside Rafah.
But he assured that the IDF would only carry out the operation “while providing safe passage for the civilian population”, without suggesting when it might take place.
The latest Israeli military strategy has triggered widespread condemnation across the globe.
Mr Biden previously said Israel’s response to the 7 October attacks has been “over the top”.
Egypt, which borders the region and operates the Rafah border crossing into Gaza, said such an offensive would violate international law and risk a refugee crisis spilling over into its territory.
It has threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel, the Camp David Accords, which are a key source of stability in the Middle East, if Mr Netanyahu goes ahead with his plan.
When Israeli ground troops first entered Gaza last year, they told the strip’s population to clear the north in less than 24 hours and move south towards areas like Rafah.
Some 1.4 million Gazas have now relocated there, mostly in makeshift camps or ‘tent cities’.
Asked where these people could be expected to move again, Mr Netanyahu said there were areas north of Rafah city “already cleared by the IDF”.
During his interview with ABC News, Mr Netanyahu claimed that not moving on Rafah would result in Israel losing the war.
But, he said, if the operation does happen “victory is in reach”.
Asked what victory meant, he added: “You don’t have to kill every last terrorist… you have to dismantle Hamas as a military force.”
He was also quizzed on the remaining Israeli hostages still inside Gaza. In response, he said that he believes there are enough people still missing “to warrant the kind of efforts we are doing.”
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October, mostly women and children, and more than 67,000 people have been wounded.
Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas militants assaulted southern Israel, killing 1,300 and taking 250 hostages, not all of whom have survived.