White House says attack at Rafah camp did not cross Biden’s red line over supporting Israel

President Joe Biden is not altering his policy toward Israel following a deadly strike that resulted in the death of more than 45 people, the White House said Tuesday, suggesting the incident had not yet crossed a red line that would force changes in American support.

Instead, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US would look for answers from Israel following the country’s investigation of the incident, which he described as “heartbreaking.”

“As a result of this strike on Sunday, I have no policy changes to speak to. It just happened,” Kirby told reporters at the White House. “The Israelis are going to investigate it. We’re going to be taking great interest in what they find in that investigation. And we’ll see where it goes from there.”

It was the clearest indication yet that Biden has not yet reached the point where he would consider suspending arms shipments or other aid to Israel, despite saying in a CNN interview earlier this month he wouldn’t allow certain US weapons to be used in a major offensive in Rafah.

While Kirby called on Israel to take precautions to protect civilian lives and warned there was a danger in Israel becoming more isolated from its traditional allies, he asserted there were no indications yet that it had waged a military campaign that would prompt Biden to withhold aid or weapons.

Israeli tanks were seen in central Rafah on Tuesday for the first time in Israel’s seven-month war against Hamas, signaling a new phase of its offensive as Israel presses on despite mounting international pressure.

Over the weekend, Israel launched an airstrike on a displacement camp in the southern Gaza city, killing dozens and sparking global outrage. The strike also took out two Hamas leaders, Israel said.

Footage obtained by CNN showed the camp in flames, with scores of men, women and children frantically trying to find cover from the nighttime assault. Burned bodies, including those of children, could be seen being pulled by rescuers from the wreckage.

“The word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Vice President Kamala Harris said of the incident on Tuesday, declining to answer when questioned about whether it crossed a red line.

Still, Kirby said Israel’s actions in the southern Gaza city have thus far not amounted to such a major ground operation, defining such a scenario as thousands of troops entering the locale.

“Should that occur, then it might make him have to make different decisions in terms of support. We haven’t seen that happen at this point,” Kirby said.

Biden has not commented publicly on either development but has been kept appraised of actions inside Israel over the weekend, Kirby said.

The US response has stood in sharp contrast to leaders in Europe and elsewhere, who sharply condemned Israel’s actions and called for an end to the violence in Gaza.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged” by the strikes and called on operations in Rafah to stop.

“There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians,” he said Monday. “I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.”

In a news conference on Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Israel is looking into the possibility that the Sunday strike may have unintentionally set off possible stored weapons in a nearby compound and subsequently a large fire that decimated the tented displacement camp.

Kirby suggested the US would look to Israel’s assessment of the incident as it gauges a path forward.

“We aren’t on the ground. We aren’t flying the aircraft. We’re not choosing the targets. We’re not providing the intelligence that leads to every target that Israeli society to hit. It is their operation,” he said. “Their troops involved, their capabilities, their pilots, they have the obligation to investigate this themselves and they’ll do that, and we will take a look and see what it says.”

The United States “will be watching” the results of the Israeli investigation into the deadly strike and subsequent fire in Rafah “closely,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday, saying that the findings should be “presented openly and transparently to us and to the world.”

“As soon as the United States saw reports of this incident, we reached out to the Government of Israel to express our deep concern over what happened, ask for more information and urge them to undertake a full investigation,” he said.

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