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War in the Middle East: Strong warnings to Israel about possible Rafah offensive

War in the Middle East: Strong warnings to Israel about possible Rafah offensive

US patience with Israel over a planned offensive on the city of Rafah is dwindling. Washington summons a delegation from Israel to the USA – and wants alternatives. The news at a glance:

In the Gaza war, pressure is increasing on Israel to refrain from a ground offensive in the city of Rafah, which is overcrowded with refugees. Any attack on the southern Gaza city would hamper efforts to reach an agreement on a ceasefire and the release of more hostages, Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majid al-Ansari warned on Tuesday. Shortly before that, the USA, as its most important ally, had once again increased the pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They called a major ground offensive in Rafah a “mistake” and summoned an Israeli delegation to Washington.

In a phone call, US President Joe Biden asked Netanyahu to send a team of representatives from the military, secret services and humanitarian aid specialists to the US capital in the next few days, said Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday (local time). The aim is to explain the US reservations to the Israelis and discuss possible alternatives. Netanyahu agreed.

“We assume that they will not move forward with the major military operation in Rafah until we have this conversation,” Sullivan continued. A meeting is planned for the end of this week or the beginning of next week.

More than half of Gaza’s population in Rafah in a small area

The entire Gaza Strip is roughly the size of Munich. After intensive Israeli bombardment in the north and center of the coastal area, an estimated 1.5 million of the total 2.2 million residents of the Gaza Strip are in the border town of Rafah in the south. Rafah is considered to be the last major city in Gaza that has not yet been severely destroyed. The border crossing with Egypt is located there, through which aid deliveries can reach the Gaza Strip and, among other things, the wounded can leave the area.

Israel’s position: Hamas cannot be defeated without an offensive in Rafah

Israel repeatedly emphasizes that without an offensive in Rafah, Hamas cannot be completely defeated. It is a military necessity to destroy the Hamas battalions that remain there. Otherwise, the terrorist organization could regroup after the end of the war and take control of the coastal strip again. In addition, the Hamas leadership, which Israel has vowed to kill, as well as the hostages kidnapped on October 7th, about a hundred of whom are still alive, are also believed to be in the tunnel system.

“We have a dispute with the Americans about the need to go into Rafah,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday. But such an operation is necessary to destroy Hamas, he emphasized. “We are determined to do this.”

Israel also wants to retake the border strip between Gaza and Egypt. Netanyahu had said that the approximately 14 kilometer long, so-called Philadelphi Corridor must be controlled by Israel again after the war. This is the only way to ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. This is intended to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip again.

US position: Offensive leads to civilian deaths and threatens aid deliveries

The US has clearly stated its position on a possible offensive in Rafah. “We believe that Hamas should not have a safe haven in Rafah or elsewhere, but a major ground operation there would be a mistake,” said security adviser Sullivan. “It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally.”

Israel has presented neither the USA nor the world with a plan on how those who fled to Rafah could be brought to safety and cared for. In addition, Rafah is the most important access point for humanitarian aid from Egypt and Israel to Gaza.

UN coordinator: Offensive could completely disrupt supplies to Gaza

Aid organizations also warned of serious consequences. Israeli military action in Rafah would completely disrupt the already inadequate supply of drinking water and food to people across the Gaza Strip, said acting UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick. Virtually all humanitarian aid currently comes to the area via Rafah.

The aid material from the few convoys that Israel allows in is immediately unloaded by desperate people or distributed by helpers. The UN has only heard from the press about “humanitarian islands with tents” that Israel is planning for the people from Rafah, said McGoldrick. It is unclear where enough space can be created for this. “If Rafah were to be evacuated, I don’t know if there would be enough tents in the entire world market to accommodate people,” McGoldrick said.

Experts: Rafah is militarily easier than Khan Yunis

From a military point of view, experts see an offensive in Rafah as less complicated than before in the city of Khan Yunis, where elite Hamas units were entrenched. In addition, the population in Rafah is more connected to family clans and less to extremist organizations, wrote Avi Issacharoff in the newspaper Yediot Achronot. There is therefore hope “that a military operation in Rafah will meet with less resistance.”

At the same time, observers warn that if an offensive begins during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, new images of death and destruction from Rafah could lead to unrest in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Arab world in general, and fuel anti-Israel protests by Muslims in the West.

Source: Stern

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