Friday, June 14, 2024

US signals Rafah strike doesn’t cross ‘red line’

The White House has indicated an Israeli attack that killed dozens of Palestinians in Rafah in the Gaza Strip did not cross a “red line” that would lead to a change in U.S. policy.

Multiple administration officials in press briefings Tuesday described the images out of Rafah as “heartbreaking”, “tragic” and “horrific”. But there was no sign of an impending policy change as a result, because it was an air raid and not a major ground operation.

“We still don’t believe that a major ground operation in Rafah is warranted. We still don’t want to see the Israelis, as we say, smash into Rafah with large units over large pieces of territory. We still believe that, and we haven’t seen that at this point,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

“As a result of this strike on Sunday, I have no policy changes to speak to,” he added.

“It just happened. 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.”

President Joe Biden earlier this month warned he would stop supplying Israel with offensive weapons such as bombs and artillery shells if it launched a long-promised invasion of Rafah.

The White House has urged Israel against sending forces into Rafah without a clear plan to evacuate civilians safely, because the war has already left tens of thousands of Palestinians dead, and about a million refugees have settled in Rafah after fleeing fighting in northern Gaza.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan last week told reporters there was “no mathematical formula” for assessing Israel’s conduct in Rafah, but officials would look at “whether there is a lot of death and destruction from this operation or if it is more precise and proportional”.

But administration officials stated Tuesday that Sunday’s airstrike, which was the deadliest incident in Rafah since Israel launched an offensive there, did not amount to what the White House has warned against.

“It is still our assessment that what is happening in Rafah and what the [Israeli military] are doing, it is limited in scope,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Rafah fire as tragic and stated Israel is “investigating it thoroughly and will learn from it, as is our policy and longstanding conduct”.

The White House has for weeks urged Israel to do all it can to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians and humanitarian workers in Gaza, where scores of Palestinians are without access to adequate food, water and medicine.

Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu, saying in an interview earlier this year that his handling of the war in Gaza was hurting Israel more than it was helping.

Kirby stated Tuesday that “no civilian casualties is the right number of civilian casualties”, but he acknowledged innocent people are often killed in war.

“There’s not like a measuring stick here or a quota,” he added, when asked if there were a number of civilian deaths that would prompt action from the U.S.

“As we’ve said many times, the right number of civilian casualties is zero.”

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