June 18, 2024

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Israeli official says: Attack on Gaza will continue until at least the end of the year: Live updates

Israeli official says: Attack on Gaza will continue until at least the end of the year: Live updates

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

The bloodshed came after Biden warned earlier this month that the United States would block some arms transfers if Israel targeted densely populated areas of Rafah — a warning that has been tested regularly as the war continues.

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

Kirby said that Israeli tanks were on the outskirts of the city “to try to put pressure on Hamas.” He also provided some specificity about Biden’s warning to Israel, which critics said was too vague.

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

Mr. Biden has faced pressure from his supporters and members of his own party to use his power to cut back weapons to Israel 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.

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The attack on Rafah on Sunday ignited a deadly fire that killed at least 45 people, including children, and injured 249, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. It has sparked international outrage, including from leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, Egypt and China.

Vice President Kamala Harris, when asked about Rafah on Tuesday, said that “the word tragic does not even begin to describe” the deaths. She did not answer a follow-up question about whether the strike crossed a red line for Mr. Biden.

However, the IDF’s behavior was similar to what Biden said he would not tolerate when he warned, in an interview with CNN earlier this month, that the United States would not supply Israel with weapons to attack Rafah.

“I made clear to Bibi and the war cabinet that they would not have our support if they were, in fact, going to these population centers,” Biden said in the interview.

In that interview, Biden emphasized that the United States would continue to guarantee Israel’s security, citing the Iron Dome missile defense system and his support for “Israel’s ability to respond to attacks.” But he said he would prevent the delivery of weapons that could be fired at densely populated areas in Rafah.

The area bombed on Sunday was not included in evacuation orders issued by Israel in early May, and some Palestinians who took refuge in the camp said they believed it was a safe area.

The Israeli military said the target of Sunday’s raid was a Hamas compound, and that “precision munitions” were used to target a commander and another senior official there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the killing of civilians was a “tragic accident.”

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About one million people fled Rafah during the Israeli attack on the city, according to what the center announced United nationsIncluding many areas in the western part of the city and in the area surrounding the camp that was bombed on Sunday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that the United States is closely monitoring the Israeli investigation into the incident.

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

Israeli army spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a press conference that Israeli planes fired “the smallest munitions” they could use, adding that “our munitions alone cannot start a fire of this size.”

Israel invaded the Gaza Strip after Hamas-led attacks on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people in Israel. The Israeli retaliatory attack killed more than 36,000 people, many of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials.

World leaders, including Mr. Biden, have warned of the dangers of a major military operation in Rafah without a proper plan to evacuate displaced Gazans who have taken refuge there.

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

He added: “Some of them have returned to Khan Yunis.” He added: “Some of them have penetrated into western Rafah. Some of them have gone to Mawasi. I don’t think there is one answer.” Mr. Miller said he did not know whether Israel was helping these people.

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

“It’s definitely blurry and determined,” Mr. Elgindy said. “They don’t want to be pinned down. They don’t want to limit themselves to defining a specific point or line to be crossed because Israel will certainly cross that line. We’ve seen that time and time again.”

Erica L. Green He contributed reporting from Washington and Michael Crowley From New York.