The Biden administration said Thursday that it would not support Israeli plans for a military operation in Rafaha city in the southern Gaza Strip where more than half of the enclave's total population has taken refuge, and both a White House spokesman and the UN secretary general warned of a catastrophe in case of Israeli attack.
“Given the circumstances and the conditions we see there right now, we believe that a military operation at this time would be a disaster for those people,” the White House spokesman told reporters. John Kirby.
Until 1.8 million Of Gaza's 2.2 million residents have fled their homes since the bombing and Israeli invasion began, and more than a million have sought refuge in Rafah, which sits on the border with Egypt and is a major hotspot. passage for aid trucks.
UN officials have warned that the city is overcrowded, squalid and lacks essential supplies.
An Israeli offensive on Rafah would create a “gigantic tragedy“said the UN Secretary General, António Guterresin a press conference, adding that war combatants had violated international laws of conflict in the past four months.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby answers questions at the White House in Washington. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)
“Half of Gaza's population is now overcrowded in Rafah,” Guterres said.
“They have nowhere to go. They have no homes and no hope. They live in overcrowded makeshift shelters, in unsanitary conditions, without running water, electricity or adequate food supplies.”
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahusaid on Wednesday that Israeli troops had been ordered to prepare for deployment in Rafah, calling it one of “the last remaining strongholds Hamas“, and Palestinian media reported on Thursday that Israeli forces bombed Rafah with airstrikes.
But Kirby said U.S. officials had not seen “any plans that would convince us that they are about to conduct or are imminently going to conduct any kind of major operation in Rafah.”
With so many Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, he said, “the Israeli military has a special obligation when carrying out operations, there or elsewhere, to ensure that they are taking into account the protection of the innocent civil life.”
He added, however, that “we will let the Israelis talk about their military operations.”
A State Department spokesperson, Vedant Patelmade similar statements on Thursday, stating that US officials were continuing to have “very tough and frank conversations” with Israeli officials about the toll in Gaza.
The territory's health authorities affirm that deaths have exceeded 27.000 and that many more people have been injured, including a large number of women and children.
“We believe that the number of civilian casualties in Gaza has been too high,” Patel said. He added that US officials have pushed for measures that could limit deaths, and that it was “a moral and strategic imperative to minimize the impact on civilians.”
Israel has claimed that its forces are trying to limit damage to civilians and that it has been allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza, while claiming that Hamas is capturing large amounts of aid.
International pressure has been mounting for months for Israel to reduce its military campaign and allow many more supplies into the territory.
Senior UN officials have repeatedly called for a permanent humanitarian ceasefire, arguing that delivering aid on the scale needed is nearly impossible for the duration of the war.
Tensions between the UN and Israel rose further after Israel charged 12 employees of the main UN aid agency for the Palestinians, known as UNRWAfor participating in the Hamas-led attacks on October 7, which Israeli authorities say killed about 1,200 people.
Guterres said he had decided to immediately fire most of the accused staff members – two others had already died – because “those allegations were credible” and “the allegations were really dangerous.”
But he also said Israel had repeatedly denied access to U.N. humanitarian operations in Gaza, especially in the territory's north.
In January, only 10 of 61 planned aid convoys were allowed to reach the north, adding that aid workers faced multiple dangers, including live fire.
Guterres said Israel had fired at one of its aid convoys with naval artillery fire this week.
“We are witnessing violations of international humanitarian law and those violations must stop, not only by Israel,” Guterres said.
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