Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Monday announced the group’s acceptance of a ceasefire proposal brokered by Qatari and Egyptian mediators. This move comes amidst a backdrop of heightened hostilities between Hamas militants and Israeli forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded that the acceptance falls short of Israel’s demands. Nevertheless, the Israeli government agreed to dispatch a delegation to Cairo for further negotiations. Israel’s war cabinet resolved to sustain military operations against Rafah on the pretext of exerting pressure on Hamas to secure the release of hostages and achieve other strategic objectives.

Recent reports indicated Israel is carrying out heavy airstrikes targeting homes in the eastern part of the city. Hamas warned Israeli military that any offensive against Rafah would not be taken lightly.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hamas’s version of the proposal diverges significantly from the Egyptian-mediated deal, notably omitting an immediate demand for a permanent ceasefire. Alterations have been made to other elements such as the release of hostages and Israel’s veto rights on Palestinian detainees.

Hamas officials maintain that the accepted plan encompasses a comprehensive framework, including provisions for a ceasefire, Gaza reconstruction, displaced individuals returning home, and a prisoner swap. These elements are structured into three distinct phases, each lasting 42 days, reflecting the group’s strategic approach to addressing the multifaceted challenges facing the region.

One major hurdle is Israel’s efforts to resume military action in Rafah after the ceasefire concludes. Hamas, on the other hand, insists on Israel committing to a permanent ceasefire upfront, rather than negotiating its duration after the truce begins.

Israel recently issued directive to evacuate tens of thousands of Palestinians from the area. The continuation will decide the fate of over 1 million Palestinians in Rafah.

Israeli occupation forces say they have issued evacuation instructions to approximately 100,000 residents of an eastern section of Rafah through various communication channels, including announcements, text messages, phone calls, and media broadcasts in Arabic. These instructions directed residents to head to an “expanded humanitarian zone” near the coast and the city of Khan Younis, areas that have witnessed significant damage due to the ongoing conflict.

Reports describe exodus of residents and displaced individuals from eastern neighbourhoods heeding Israeli military leaflets instructing evacuation. Families left to the Israel-designated zone on foot, donkeys, trolleys, and overloaded trucks, amid fears of becoming Israeli targets en route or upon reaching the so-called “safe area,” as Israeli forces had done on numerous occasions before.

Reports suggest that Israel plans to seize control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, a vital lifeline for humanitarian aid and the entry point to neighbouring Egypt.

Over 1.4 million people displaced from other parts of Gaza during the war have sought refuge in Rafah over the past seven months. The city has been the foremost logistics hub for humanitarian operations throughout the territory. However, it is surrounded by dense tent encampments. The coastal zone of al-Mawasi, where Israel has instructed people to evacuate, is already overcrowded. Khan Younis, which is designated as an alternative, is considered “completely uninhabitable” according to aid workers.

Humanitarian officials and displaced individuals residing in al-Mawasi complained of acute overcrowding, insufficient food, limited access to fresh water, and a severe lack of sanitation. Israeli forces have targeted al-Mawasi in airstrikes at least twice in recent months.

The United States acknowledged the situation but downplayed the significance of these actions. The officials continue to emphasise efforts to prevent further escalation, particularly in densely populated areas.

In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden has reiterated his stance on Rafah, according to the White House. US officials highlighted the necessity for Israel to present a viable humanitarian plan for the Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah. They stress that US policy towards the region would change if Israel proceeds with an offensive without such a plan.

The decision regarding a potential US policy change, including restrictions on arms supplies, depends on President Biden. US officials declined to comment on reports suggesting that a shipment of US-made ammunition scheduled for last week had been temporarily halted.

UNRWA Head Philippe Lazzarini pointed out that Israeli military action in Rafah would worsen the food insecurity situation.

The Saudi foreign ministry denounced Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide,” condemning the Israeli military’s targeting of Rafah as part of what it termed a systematic campaign to displace residents of the besieged enclave. This condemnation comes despite previous efforts by Riyadh to normalise relations with Israel.

The Norwegian Refugee Council underlined the potential for widespread famine and the collapse of the aid response.

Hundreds of Israelis have gathered at the main military headquarters in Tel Aviv, demanding a decisive resolution to the crisis. Similar smaller gatherings have been reported in Jerusalem and other cities across Israel.

Despite domestic pressure to secure the release of hostages held in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to prioritise the demands of far-right parties. The coalition threatens to withdraw support if a ceasefire agreement is reached. Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir advocated for an immediate military occupation of Rafah despite potential civilian casualties.

Far-right Israeli protesters blocked the Latrun Interchange on Highway 1 within the occupied West Bank, celebrated the new wave of intense Israeli attacks on Rafah. Members of the Tzav 9 activist group took to the streets, chanting slogans and brandishing Israeli flags as they obstructed trucks carrying humanitarian aid destined for Gaza.

Ynetnews reported instances of protesters seizing aid from the trucks and casting it onto the ground. The aid convoys were headed from Jordan to Gaza via occupied Jerusalem. The Tzav 9 group has vowed to continue blocking aid deliveries to Gaza.

Since 7 October, Israel has killed at least 34,735 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded 78,108 others in Gaza.