Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at a delay in the planned military operation in Rafah if a captive deal is reached, but he stated that the operation will be launched nevertheless. Netanyahu’s plan for the ground invasion includes evacuation plans and his war cabinet is expected to discuss the operational details this week.

International calls for Israel to exercise restraint have intensified in recent weeks, particularly concerning plans for the Rafah assault. Despite international pressure and calls for restraint, Netanyahu remains firm, claiming the necessity of the upcoming military operation in Rafah.

The operation aims to root out four battalions of Hamas fighters, with Netanyahu pledging total victory and confirming that the operation will proceed, even if delayed by ongoing negotiations.

US President Joe Biden has warned against moving into Rafah without a credible plan to protect civilians. However, there are reports that Biden has not been briefed on Israel’s specific plans for the assault, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Netanyahu mentioned a plan to move Palestinian civilians into cleared zones in the north. The area is currently experiencing heavy bombing and ongoing fighting.

The ongoing battles have proved the difficulties Israeli forces encounter in pursuing the objective of destroying Hamas following the cross-border attacks initiated on 7 October. Despite a high civilian death toll, the only top Hamas leader killed by Israeli forces was hit by a drone in Beirut.

US officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, believe a significant portion (as much as 80%) of the tunnel network used by Hamas remains intact.

Internally, there is mounting pressure on Netanyahu in Israel. Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv, including families of those held in Gaza and at least one returned hostage, Ilana Gritzewsky, faced water cannons from the police. Several people were injured during the protests. Michel, an injured individual, expressed that the event would likely motivate more people, especially young individuals who recently returned from Gaza, to join the demonstrations.

Despite the use of water cannons, protesters, led by organiser Amir Haskel, are demanding an immediate election to replace the current government with one more dedicated to securing the release of hostages.

The backdrop of the operation includes approximately 130 Israelis being held by Hamas in Gaza, with a quarter believed to be dead. A previous deal in November, which resulted in the release of over 100 hostages, collapsed, setting the stage for the current situation. Hamas, in return for further hostage releases, demands a permanent ceasefire and the release of senior Palestinian resistance figures. Israel rejected these terms.

Israel is set to report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday regarding the progress made in implementing the top UN court’s order to prevent genocide in Gaza.

The toll on the Palestinian population continues to rise, with at least 29,692 Palestinians reported killed and 69,879 injured in Israeli attacks since 7 October.

The Israeli military shelled and fired upon Palestinians who were waiting for food aid along the coastal road in northern Gaza City on Sunday evening. The attack killed 10 Palestinians and injured at least 15 others. The injured victims were transferred to al-Shifa Hospital. The Israeli military also targeted a three-storey home in the Zeitoun neighbourhood, killing at least 15 people.

The Israeli military bombed a residential home, killing three Palestinians, including a woman and a child, in the southern city of Rafah. Reports and images have surfaced documenting the Israeli army’s targeting of two Palestinian sisters, one of whom lost her life while searching for food on farmland in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian activist and rights advocate Mustafa Barghouti stated: “Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are starving in the North of Gaza because of the Israeli siege.” United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported the death of a two-month-old baby due to hunger.

As the death toll in Gaza is expected to surpass 30,000 this week, negotiators from Israel, Qatar, Egypt, and the US are working on a ceasefire and a hostage swap deal.

Negotiators have agreed on the basic outline of an arrangement. The prospective deal involves the release of 30-40 hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for up to 300 Palestinian hostages. The proposed ceasefire will last up to six weeks and aims to pause fighting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, starting around 10 March. Both parties would continue negotiations for additional releases and a permanent ceasefire during this period.

The UNRWA reveals that it has been unable to deliver aid to northern Gaza since 23 January. UNRWA Chief Philippe Lazzarini described the situation as a looming famine, attributing it to a man-made disaster that requires immediate attention.

Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is facing widespread hunger, leading the aid agencies to report pockets of famine within the territory. The rapid spread of infectious diseases is another concern, with only 13 out of 34 hospitals in Gaza functioning, many at partial or minimal capacity.