US not anticipating Israeli forces to enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan

US not anticipating Israeli forces to enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan - Politics - News

The Looming Crisis in Rafah: Biden Administration Urges Israel to Ensure Civilian Safety Before Military Operations

The Biden administration is not expecting an imminent expansion of Israeli military operations into Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, according to two US officials. The holy month of Ramadan is set to begin on Monday for most Muslims, and tensions are high in the Middle East due to Israel’s warnings of a military offensive into this densely populated area.

Recent warnings from Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz have highlighted the possibility of a major incursion into Rafah if a temporary ceasefire and hostage release deal is not reached before Ramadan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has stated his intention to send the military into Rafah regardless of a deal. Netanyahu’s statement came during an interview with German outlet Axel Springer, where he mentioned President Joe Biden’s red line comment regarding a potential operation into Rafah.

Biden had stated in a Saturday MSNBC interview that such an operation “is a red line,” adding, “It cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.” Netanyahu subsequently clarified in interviews with Politico and the German media outlet Bild that the operation would not last beyond two months but did not provide specifics on the timeline.

Amidst these escalating tensions, the Biden administration is yet to receive any humanitarian or evacuation plan from the Israeli government that addresses civilian safety in Rafah before launching military operations. The city, home to approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, is the only nominally safe space for those fleeing the north and center of Gaza. Families living in this sprawling tent city already face severe shortages of food, water, medicine, and shelter, and daily risk being killed.

The United Nations aid chief has warned that a ground invasion into Rafah could result in “a slaughter.” The potential for mass civilian casualties adds to the urgency for the Israeli government to provide a credible plan to ensure the safety of civilians before any military action.

US officials have expressed skepticism regarding the feasibility of such a guarantee, given the densely populated nature of Rafah. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, during a White House press briefing at the end of February, made it clear that the US would not support an offensive into Rafah until they had seen a plan ensuring the safety of refugees seeking shelter in the city.

As diplomatic efforts continue, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz met with Qatari, Egyptian, and Israeli counterparts last week to discuss the situation. However, Biden expressed doubts on Friday that a temporary ceasefire deal could be reached by the start of Ramadan – a development he had previously expressed optimism about.

The impending approach of Ramadan has heightened tensions in the Middle East, with Israel’s persistent warnings of a military offensive into an area that houses such a large civilian population. The Biden White House has reiterated its stance that Israel must provide a plan prioritizing civilian safety before expanding military operations into Rafah.