Israel says it has conducted all necessary preparations to enter the city of Rafah

IDF says it has mobilised two reserve brigades to return to southern Gaza

Israel’s military has conducted all necessary preparations to enter the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million Gaza residents sought refuge during the war, and can launch an operation the moment it gets government approval, a senior Israeli defence official said on Wednesday.

Earlier, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had mobilised two reserve brigades to return to southern Gaza, to “continue the mission of defence and attack in the Gaza Strip”.

Israel believes that the Hamas leadership and many of the hostages taken in its October 7th attack are in Rafah.

Egypt has warned Israel against pushing into the city and Israel’s top general and the head of the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet, met with military and intelligence chiefs in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss the planned offensive in Rafah, which lies on the Egyptian border. The prevailing Israeli assessment is that the evacuation of civilians from Rafah to designated safe zones will take between four and five weeks.


In northern Gaza on Wednesday, some Palestinian civilians were fleeing their homes just weeks after returning because of an Israeli bombardment which they said was as intense as those at the start of the war.

Much of the shelling was focused for a second day on Beit Lahiya on the northern edge of Gaza, where the Israeli military gave evacuation orders to four neighbourhoods on Tuesday, warning they were in a “dangerous combat zone”.

After weeks of relative calm, Israel intensified its attacks overnight on Monday, focusing on areas – particularly in the north – from where it had previously withdrawn troops, saying the Palestinian militant group Hamas was no longer in control.

Hamas released a video on Wednesday showing Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin (24), the first indication he is alivesince he was kidnapped during the militant group’s October 7th attack while at an outdoor music festival.

The Jerusalem resident lost part of his left arm when Hamas gunmen threw a grenade into a concrete bomb shelter where he was sheltering with a dozen other party-goers and he appears in the video with an amputated arm.

In the video he criticised prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government and mentions “almost 200 days of captivity”, which ostensibly dates the clip from a few days ago. “Hersh’s cry is the collective cry of all the hostages”, the family wrote in their statement. “Their time is rapidly running out.”

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 34,200 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise attack on October 7th. It believes 133 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, but it is not known how many are alive.

A senior Hamas official said it offered to release 40 hostages in the first phase of a ceasefire and hostage release deal, not 20 as was reported by some Israeli media outlets.

Wednesday also saw another day of fierce clashes along the Israel-Lebanon border after two Israeli homes were destroyed by Hizbullah anti-tank rockets fired from south Lebanon. Israel said it hit some 40 Hizbullah targets.

Far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday welcomed the resignation of Israel’s head of military intelligence, Maj Gen Aharon Haliva, earlier this week, arguing that Israel’s top general and the military echelon, who failed on October 7th, should not be the ones to appoint his successor.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem