Israel ‘agreed’ to take US Rafah concerns into consideration: White House

Top US and Israeli officials have ‘constructive engagement on Rafah’ during talks previously delayed by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Rafah air strike
Onlookers survey the rubble of a building attacked by Israel in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20 [Said Khatib/AFP]

Washington, DC – Israeli officials have agreed to take the United States’s “concerns” about a possible invasion of Rafah in Gaza into consideration after a virtual meeting, the White House has said.

It remains unclear whether the talks on Monday will push Israel to delay or cancel its planned assault on the crowded southern Gaza city, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have taken shelter.

Officials from both countries had a “constructive engagement on Rafa”, the US White House said in a statement.

The meeting was attended by government experts and senior representatives, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi, according to the statement.

“The US side expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah. The Israeli side agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow up discussions between experts,” the White House said, adding that further discussions will be held, including another meeting as early as next week.

The possible invasion of Rafah has been a rare point of public disagreement between the administration of US President Joe Biden and Israel.

The city, which sits at the border with Egypt, is now home to more than 1.5 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom have been displaced from their homes by the Israeli offensive. Rafah is also the main gateway for humanitarian aid reaching the territory.

US officials have warned that a ground operation in Gaza would be a “mistake”, stressing that civilians trapped in the city have nowhere else to go. Washington has also expressed concern over a ground assault’s potential effects on the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

But Israel has emphasised that a major attack on Rafah is needed to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions.

The US has said it shares the goal of eliminating Hamas, but there are alternative methods of targeting the Palestinian group without an all-out Rafah invasion.

Israel’s European allies have also voiced opposition to a Rafah assault.

The talks on Monday had originally been set for last month. But they were rescheduled after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled Israel’s delegation to Washington, DC, in protest of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, which the Biden administration did not veto.

Earlier on Monday, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the meeting was held virtually because the US wanted to “move very quickly” on the issue.

“If they are going to move forward with a military operation, we have to have this conversation. We have to understand how they’re going to move forward,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Despite cautioning against a Rafah invasion, the Biden administration has said repeatedly that there are no red lines in Gaza that would hinder the US aid and weapons transfers to Israel.

The war on Gaza has killed close to 33,000 Palestinians, and Israel’s blockade of the territory has brought it to the verge of famine.

Source: Al Jazeera