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Announced Rafah offensive: Israel changes plans under US pressure

Announced Rafah offensive: Israel changes plans under US pressure

For months, the US tried to dissuade Israel from its planned ground offensive in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Now Israel is giving in – while the humanitarian situation in southern Gaza continues to worsen.

According to media reports, Israel has adapted its controversial military action in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip to the demands of the US ally for limited operations. “It’s fair to say that the Israelis have updated their plans. They have taken into account many of the concerns that we raised,” the Times of Israel quoted a senior US government official as saying on Wednesday night.

The Washington Post had also previously reported that after discussions with the US government, Israel had decided to abandon plans for a major offensive in the city that borders Egypt and instead proceed on a more limited scale. An earlier plan to send two Israeli army divisions to the city will not be pursued, the US newspaper reported, citing unnamed US officials.

The US government official was referring to discussions that White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had last weekend with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The decisive factor is what actually happens, said the government representative. “We don’t give the green light to Israeli operations, that’s not our job.”

US President Joe Biden has publicly spoken out against a major ground offensive in Rafah. Since the beginning of May, the Israeli army says it has been carrying out “targeted” ground operations and air strikes in Rafah, despite international warnings. She wants to destroy the last battalions of the Islamist Hamas believed to be there. After more than seven months of war, Rafah is the last town in the sealed-off Gaza Strip that is still relatively intact. The US rejects a major Israeli ground offensive there.

Israel’s army began a ground operation in the east of the city two weeks ago. According to the Times of Israel, the military’s latest estimates indicate that around 950,000 Palestinians have left Rafah since then. There are currently around 300,000 to 400,000 civilians there. Before the Israeli army began its invasion, more than a million internally displaced people from other parts of the Gaza Strip had sought shelter in Rafah.

Israel probably has no settlement plans for Rafah

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured that Israel has no plans to build settlements in the Gaza Strip after the war. “This was never planned,” he emphasized in an interview with the US news channel CNN on Tuesday. As soon as Hamas is defeated, sustainable demilitarization of Gaza must be achieved, said Netanyahu. “We want a civilian administration run by citizens of Gaza who are neither affiliated with nor committed to Hamas.”

The Washington Post previously quoted unnamed Israeli defense officials as saying their strategy calls for a Palestinian security force. This would consist partly of the administrative staff of the Palestinian Authority and be overseen by a governing council made up of Palestinian figures – with the support of moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Unlike Prime Minister Netanyahu, some Israeli officials accepted that this administrative board would be connected to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

A few days ago, Israel’s Defense Minister Joav Galant criticized the government under Netanyahu for lacking a plan for who should govern after the war in the Gaza Strip. Hamas can only be permanently ousted from power if Palestinian representatives take control in Gaza, accompanied by international actors who create a governing alternative to Hamas rule, Galant said. Asked whether this meant bringing the West Bank Palestinian Authority into Gaza, Netanyahu said: “I am clearly against exchanging Hamastan for Fatahstan.” In the West Bank, the comparatively moderate Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the leading party.

Egypt blocks aid deliveries

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) temporarily suspended food distribution in Rafah on Tuesday. The UN agency cited delivery bottlenecks and the security situation as reasons. According to media reports, Egypt is withholding humanitarian aid because of Israel’s actions in Rafah. The border crossing there, through which aid previously reached Gaza, is closed after Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side.

This has made the Kerem Shalom border crossing even more important as a bottleneck for aid supplies to Gaza, but according to Politico, Egypt has stopped all deliveries via this crossing point. The USA tried to convince Cairo that the relief supplies accumulated in Egypt could then at least be transported to Gaza via the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing, the newspaper wrote. After the Israelis took over the Palestinian side of the border crossing in Rafah, the Egyptians did not want to appear to be their accomplices by channeling aid through Karem Shalom instead, it was said. Kerem Shalom is about three kilometers from Rafah.

Egypt’s attitude also complicates the ceasefire negotiations, Politico continued. If Cairo allowed the aid deliveries, it could defuse tensions and possibly help restart negotiations, it said.

Aid supplies are now piling up on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, wrote the Times of Israel. Egypt has indicated it will not coordinate the movement of aid through Rafah until Israeli troops leave, according to media reports.

Source: Stern

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