President Joe Biden has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a planned military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah “should not proceed” without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.
In a call with the Israeli leader on Sunday, Mr Biden said that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) must ensure the safety of more than one million civilians sheltering in the region before proceeding with the offensive.
He called for “urgent and specific steps” to increase humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians trapped in Gaza, the White House said in a statement.
The two leaders also discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages taken by Hamas during the militant group's October 7 attack on Israel, the White House said.
Mr Netanyahu on Sunday insisted that Israel would press ahead with the offensive despite growing international alarm.
In an interview with ABC News, he said that victory was “in reach” and that the IDF were “going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah”.
He also claimed that Israel would “provide safe passage” for civilians in the city, adding that there were “plenty of areas” for them to evacuate to north of Rafah.
“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, 'Lose the war. Keep Hamas there,'” he added.
Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions” if Rafah was attacked, while Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that he was “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive.
Israel claims that Rafah is the last remaining stronghold for Hamas fighters after more than four months of conflict triggered by the October 7 attack.
But aid agencies have warned that an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic. A military operation in the city could force the closure of its crossing, cutting off the delivery of food and medical supplies and exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the besieged territory.
The United Nations have warned that there is nowhere safe to go for more than a million Palestinians who have already fled to Rafah. Israeli forces have pounded the town with airstrikes in recent days.
It comes days after the US President told reporters that Israel's military response in the Gaza Strip was “over the top,” reflecting growing concern and frustration over the rising death toll of civilians in the Palestinian enclave.
The latest figures from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry put the overall Palestinian death toll at more than 28,100. Palestinian health authorities say around 70 per cent of those who have been killed were women or children under 18.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “There are over 1.4 million displaced Palestinians in Rafah and it is the gateway to aid for Gaza – an Israeli offensive there would be catastrophic.
“The fighting must stop now. We need a sustainable ceasefire.”
Hamas has said it won't release any more hostages unless Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. It has also demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants serving life sentences.