*** ----> Israel PM orders troops to ready for push into crowded Rafah | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Israel PM orders troops to ready for push into crowded Rafah

AFP | Jerusalem                                                        

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered troops to prepare to enter Gaza's crowded southern city of Rafah, even as new talks aimed at securing a truce with Hamas were set to open Thursday in Cairo.

Netanyahu announced the order after rejecting Hamas's response to a ceasefire proposal at the centre of recent intensive diplomatic efforts, dismissing what he called the group's "bizarre demands".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken -- in Israel as part of his fifth Middle East crisis tour since the October 7 attack -- insisted he still saw "space for agreement to be reached" to halt the fighting and bring home hostages.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday that an Israeli military push into the city "would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare". The Israeli army said Thursday it was operating in both the north and the south of the Gaza Strip, and that it had killed 30 across the territory.

"Two participated in the October 7 massacre" were arrested as well as a member of Hamas's commando unit, it added. Netanyahu, in televised remarks Wednesday, said he had ordered troops to "prepare to operate" in Rafah and predicted that coming months would bring "total victory". Regarding the ceasefire proposal, he added: "Giving in to the bizarre demands of Hamas that we have just heard will... only invite another massacre."

Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv that Hamas's counter-proposal had at least offered an opportunity "to pursue negotiations". "While there are some clear non-starters in Hamas's response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached, and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there," Blinken said, hours after meeting Netanyahu.

He later met with moderates in Netanyahu's war cabinet, including Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, for talks on "the hostages and the strong desire that we both have to see them returned to their families", and also held talks with Israel's main opposition leader Yair Lapid.