US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not launch a military operation in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip “without a 'credible' plan to protect civilians.”the White House reported on Sunday.
It is the most emphatic statement so far released by Biden about the possible operation. Biden, who last week called the Israeli reaction “exaggerated” in Gaza, also called for “urgent and specific” steps to bring humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke after Egypt, according to two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat, threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli forces enter Rafah and said fighting there could lead to the closure of the main route for aid entry.
In addition to that, Biden and Netanyahu spoke about negotiations to achieve the freedom of hostages held by the Palestinian militia. Israeli Television Channel 13 He reported that the conversation lasted 45 minutes.
The threat to suspend the Camp David agreements, a cornerstone of regional stability for almost half a century, emerged after Netanyahu indicated that sending troops to Rafah It was necessary to win the war against the Palestinian militia Hamas, which has been going on for four months now. He claimed that Hamas has four battalions there.
More than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere, and are crowded into UN-run tent camps and shelters near the border. Egypt fears the influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who may never return to Gaza.
Netanyahu told “Fox News Sunday” that there is “plenty of room north of Rafah for them to go” and noted that Israel will train civilians with “fliers, cell phones, to warn them of safe corridors and other things”.
A view of a temporary camp, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Xinhua Photo
The impasse between Israel and Egypt, both allies of the United States, comes as aid groups warn that an offensive in Rafah could worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza. where around 80% of the population has fled their homes and where the UN says that a quarter of the population is on the brink of famine.
Hamas's Al-Aqsa television channel quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that an invasion of Rafah would “blow up” negotiations by the United States, Egypt and Qatar aimed at achieving a truce and the release of hostages. Israelis held by the Palestinian militia.
It is not known where the civilians will go
Netanyahu, in an interview with ABC News' “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” suggested that civilians could go north, saying there are “quite a few areas” that have been cleared by Israeli forces. He stated that Israel is developing “a detailed plan” to relocate them.
But the offensive has caused widespread destruction, particularly in northern Gaza, and fighting continues in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis. A ground offensive in Rafah It could also cause the closure of the border crossingclosing one of the few entry routes for humanitarian aid.
The three officials confirmed the Egyptian threats, although they spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries have also warned of severe repercussions if Israel enters Rafah.
“An Israeli offensive in Rafah would cause an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe and tensions with Egypt”, wrote the European Union's foreign relations commissioner, Josep Borrell, in X.
Israel and Egypt fought five wars before signing the Camp David Accords, brokered by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. The treaty includes descriptions of how troops should be deployed on either side of the border.
Egypt has fortified its border with Gaza, clearing a 5-kilometer (3-mile) buffer zone and erecting concrete walls above ground and underground. He has denied Israeli accusations that Hamas operates smuggling tunnels under the border, claiming that Egyptian forces have full control on their side.
An elderly woman walks past young people near buildings badly damaged by Israeli bombing, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP Photo
But Egyptian officials fear that if the border is violated, Egyptian forces will not be able to stem the tide of people fleeing toward the Sinai Peninsula.
United Nations says Rafah, which normally has less than 300,000 inhabitants, It has now taken in another 1.4 million people who have fled fighting elsewhere and is “severely overcrowded”.
Netanayahu indicated that Hamas still has four battalions there. “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, 'Lose the war, let Hamas stay there,'” Netanyahu told ABC News.
More Palestinian victims
Israel has ordered much of Gaza's population south with evacuation orders covering two-thirds of the territory, even as it carries out airstrikes against the entire territory, including Rafah. Shelling there in recent days has killed dozens of Palestiniansincluding women and children.
Gaza's Health Ministry said Sunday that the bodies of 112 people killed in the territory have been taken to hospitals in the past 24 hours, as well as 173 people injured. Recent fatalities They bring the death toll in the territory to 28,176 since the start of the war. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but assures that the majority of the victims are women and minors.
The war began with the Hamas massacre in southern Israel on October 7, when the militia killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 250. More than 100 hostages were freed in November during a ceasefire. of fire.
Hamas insists that will not release more hostages until Israel concludes its offensive and withdraws from the territory. It also demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including some high-ranking ones serving life sentences.
Netanyahu has emphatically rejected both demands, stating that Israel will fight until “total victory” and the return of all hostages.