Advertisement

Washington urges Israel not to invade Gaza's Rafah. Netanyahu persists

Washington urges Israel not to invade Gaza's Rafah. Netanyahu persists

The US top diplomat said on Thursday a major Israeli ground assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah would be “a mistake” and “unnecessary” to defeating Hamas.

His remarks underscore the further souring of relations between Israel and its principal ally, the United States.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his sixth urgent mission to the Middle East since the Israel Hamas war began in October, spoke after discussing a ceasefire and Gaza’s post-conflict future with Arab diplomats.

He said an “immediate, sustained ceasefire” with the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas was urgently needed and that gaps were narrowing in indirect negotiations the US, Egypt and Qatar have spent weeks mediating.

Those negotiations continued at a senior level in Qatar on Friday.

Blinken added that Israeli officials will meet in Washington to discuss alternative methods to a ground invasion in Rafah.

Netanyahu has said that without an invasion of Rafah, Israel can’t achieve its goal of destroying Hamas - something the Israeli PM has vowed to do after the Palestinian militants' deadly 7 October attack on southern Israel.

The US position on a Rafah operation has shifted significantly in recent days. Initially, Washington said it could only support a major incursion into the city unless there was a clear and credible plan for getting civilians out of harm’s way.

US officials now say they have concluded there is no credible way to do that, given that more than one million people are sheltering there.

Other options, including specifically targeted operations against Hamas fighters, are the only way to avoid a civilian catastrophe, they added.

But Netanyahu, on a roughly 45-minute call with US senators on Wednesday, pledged to ignore warnings about a Rafah operation.

Senator John Kennedy, a Republican who was in the meeting, said Netanyahu “made it very clear that he and the people of Israel intend to prosecute the war to the full extent of their power and that he would not be dictated to by Senator Schumer or President Biden.”