Israeli actions in Rafah do not cross US red lines, says White House

The United States does not believe Israel has launched a full-scale invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, according to White House spokesman John Kirby. This statement came just hours after Israeli forces reached the center of Rafah and reportedly seized a strategic hill overlooking the border with Egypt.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden indicated he would limit weapons supplies to Israel if it entered the densely populated areas of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be sheltering. Kirby, addressing reporters, confirmed there has been no significant ground operation in Rafah that would trigger a change in US policy.

Kirby also responded to inquiries about an Israeli airstrike and ensuing fire that killed at least 45 Palestinians, including women, children, and the elderly, at a displaced persons camp. Israel stated the strike targeted and killed two senior Hamas officials, suggesting the fire might have been caused by an explosion at a nearby Hamas weapons store. Kirby described the aftermath images as “heartbreaking” and “horrific,” emphasizing that no innocent lives should be lost in the conflict. The US State Department is closely monitoring the Israeli military’s investigation into the strike.

President Biden, addressing CNN, reiterated his stance on restricting weapon supplies if Israel entered Rafah’s population centers. He noted that operations had thus far been confined to the border areas. At home, Biden faces increasing pressure to ensure the humanitarian impact of the conflict is minimized. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen urged a pause in offensive military assistance to Israel until it respects humanitarian considerations and presidential requests.

In a recent address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed Sunday’s strike a “tragic mishap” but vowed to continue operations in Rafah. Regional governments, including Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, have condemned the attack, describing it as a dangerous violation of international law and warning of severe humanitarian consequences.

UN reports indicate around a million people have fled Rafah, with several hundred thousand still sheltering there. Eyewitnesses reported heavy bombardment and Israeli tanks positioned at key locations in the city. UNRWA spokesman Sam Rose highlighted the intensification of military operations, affecting essential humanitarian facilities.

Despite denials from the Israeli military, local officials reported another deadly incident involving tank shells hitting a tent camp in al-Mawasi, killing at least 21 people. Videos of the incident showed multiple casualties, but the cause remains unverified.

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza began in response to a Hamas cross-border attack on October 7, which resulted in over 1,200 Israeli deaths and 252 hostages. According to Gaza’s health ministry, the conflict has claimed at least 36,090 lives in Gaza so far.

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