Gaza offensive will last at least until the end of the year, Israeli official says: real-time updates

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US officials said Tuesday that the Israeli attack that killed dozens of Palestinians in southern Gaza was a tragedy but that it did not violate President Biden’s red line to hold back arms shipments to Israel.

The bloodshed came after Biden warned earlier this month that the US would block some arms transfers if Israel targeted densely populated areas of Rafah – a warning that has been tested regularly with the progress of the war.

John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said the deaths were “devastating” but that the scale of the attack was not enough to change American policy. “We don’t want to see a big ground operation,” Kirby told reporters. “We didn’t see it.”

Israeli tanks were on the outskirts of the city “trying to put pressure on Hamas,” Kirby said. He also offered a degree of specificity regarding Biden’s warning to Israel, which critics have called too vague.

“We haven’t seen them come in with large units and large numbers of troops in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground,” Kirby said. “Everything we can see tells us that they are not moving with a major ground operation in the population centers of Rafah city.”

Biden has faced pressure from supporters and members of his own party to use his power to reduce Israel’s weapons as a way to influence its conduct in the war. The United States is by far the largest arms supplier to Israel, raising questions about American responsibility as the death toll mounts.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, Sunday’s strike in Rafah triggered a deadly fire killing at least 45 people, including children, and injuring 249. It has sparked international outrage, including from leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, of Egypt and China.

Vice President Kamala Harris, asked Tuesday about Rafah, said “the word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe” the deaths. He did not respond to a follow-up question about whether the strike had crossed a red line for Mr. Biden.

However, the Israeli military’s conduct was similar to what Biden said he would not tolerate when he warned, in a CNN interview earlier this month, that the United States would not provide Israel with weapons to attack Rafah.

“I have made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet that they will not get our support if, in fact, they go into these population centers,” Biden said in the interview.

In that interview, Biden stressed that the United States will continue to ensure Israel’s security, citing the Iron Dome missile defense system and its support for Israel’s “ability to respond to attacks.” But she said she would block deliveries of weapons that could be dropped in densely populated areas of Rafah.

The area hit on Sunday was not included in evacuation orders issued by Israel in early May, and some Palestinian refugees in the camp said they had believed it was a safe area.

The Israeli military said the target of Sunday’s attack was a Hamas compound and that “precise munitions” had been used to hit a commander and another senior official there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the civilian deaths were a “tragic accident.”

According to the United Nations, around a million people fled Rafah during Israel’s assault on the city, including many in the western part of the city and in the area around the camp hit on Sunday.

A State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said the United States was closely watching the Israeli investigation into the incident.

“Israel said there may have been a Hamas ammunition depot near the area where they carried out the attack,” Miller said. “It’s a very important factual question that needs to be answered.”

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a news conference that the Israeli jets fired the “smallest munitions” they could use and added that “our munitions alone could not have started a fire of these dimensions.”

Israel invaded Gaza after Hamas-led attacks on October 7 killed around 1,200 people in Israel. Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 36,000 people, many of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials.

World leaders, including Biden, have warned of the dangers of a major military operation in Rafah without an adequate plan to evacuate the displaced Gazans taking refuge there.

Mr. Miller was able to provide few details about hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Rafah in recent weeks.

“Some of them returned to Khan Younis,” he said. “Some of them went to the western part of Rafah. Some of them went to Mawasi. I don’t think there is a single answer.” Mr Miller said he did not know whether Israel was helping those people.

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and adviser to Palestinian leaders during past peace negotiations, said the White House is capitalizing on its ambiguous descriptions of Biden’s “red line” for the Israeli military operation in Rafah.

“It’s definitely unfocused and intentional,” Mr. Elgindy said. “They don’t want to be blocked. They don’t want to get stuck identifying an exact point or line that can be crossed because Israel will absolutely cross that line. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Associated media – Associated media

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