Biden talks with Netanyahu while the Israelis seem closer to a major attack on Rafah

Washington (AFP) – Pres Joe Biden He again urged the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Against launching an attack on the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on Monday He seemed to be getting closer To a large-scale military operation to eliminate Hamas activists.

But shortly after Israel announced that it had ordered about 100,000 Palestinians to begin evacuating from Rafah, Hamas said in a statement that it had accepted the Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal for a ceasefire that has been ongoing for seven months. The war with Israel in Gaza.

Israeli army spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Israel will continue its operations in Gaza while officials deliberate on the ceasefire proposal that Hamas agreed to. The Israeli military cabinet voted unanimously to approve the military operation in Rafah, but it will continue ceasefire efforts.

The Israeli army also said it carried out “targeted strikes” against Hamas east of Rafah. The nature of the strikes was not immediately known, but the move appears aimed at maintaining pressure as talks continue.

Biden administration officials on Monday continued to express concerns to the Israelis that a major military operation in the densely populated areas of Rafah would be disastrous.

On Monday, White House officials also expressed particular concern about the recent strikes on Rafah — although they did not appear to be the large-scale attack Netanyahu is threatening, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking who was not authorized to comment publicly.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Biden had been briefed on Hamas’ response. CIA Director William Burns, who was in Qatar for hostage talks with regional officials, was discussing the Hamas statement with allies in the region. Kirby refused to discuss the limits of what Hamas says it has agreed to.

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“Bill Burns is looking at that response. He’s talking to the Israelis about this,” Kirby told reporters. “And we’ll see where this goes. Hopefully, this will lead to the release of these hostages for real soon.

In recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials said a ceasefire would take place A series of stages During which Hamas will release the hostages it holds in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Senior officials in the Biden administration are publicly pressing Hamas to accept what they described as a generous offer by the Israelis that would also lead to an extended truce and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and perhaps pave the way for a permanent end. for the current conflict.

The White House said that Biden, in a phone call Monday morning with Netanyahu, confirmed American concerns about the invasion of Rafah, where more than a million civilians from other parts of Gaza are taking shelter with the war sparked by Israel. Hamas attack on October 7 The Israeli aggression against Israel led to the death of more than 34 thousand Palestinians and deprivation in the Gaza Strip.

Biden told Netanyahu that he still believes that reaching a ceasefire with Hamas is the best way to protect the lives of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza, officials said. Israel says Hamas is holding about 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others in Gaza.

The leaders’ call came before Hamas announced that it had accepted the ceasefire proposal.

“The president was firm again this morning that we do not support ground operations in Rafah,” Kirby said.

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The latest developments come as Biden hosted Jordanian King Abdullah II for a private lunch meeting at the White House on Monday to discuss the war and hostage talks. The Jordanian Embassy in Washington said in a post on the social media site

On Sunday, Netanyahu rejected international pressure to stop the war in Gaza In a fiery speech Marking the country’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, declaring that “if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

He said in English: “I say to world leaders: No amount of pressure or any decision from any international forum will prevent Israel from defending itself.” “It won’t happen again now.”

The Israeli army ordered about 100,000 Palestinians on Monday to begin evacuating from it RafahWhich suggests a ground invasion there may be imminent and further complicates efforts to broker a ceasefire.

Tensions escalated on Sunday when Hamas fired rockets at Israeli forces stationed on the border with Gaza, near Israel’s main crossing into Israel. Delivery of humanitarian aidResulting in the killing of four soldiers. Meanwhile, Israeli air strikes on Rafah killed 22 people, including children and two infants, according to a hospital.

Netanyahu also informed Biden that he will ensure that the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel remains open for the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the White House.

Israeli officials last week He briefed Biden administration officials on the evacuation plan Palestinian civilians ahead of a possible operation, according to American officials familiar with the matter.

The officials, who were not allowed to comment publicly and requested anonymity to talk about this sensitive exchange, said that the plan presented in detail by the Israelis did not change the US administration’s view that proceeding with an operation in Rafah would expose many innocent Palestinian civilians. To danger. risk.

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Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had previously emphasized with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant that Israel needed a “credible plan” to evacuate these civilians and preserve humanitarian aid. Ryder said Austin had seen “concepts” from the Israelis about their plan for an operation in Rafah, “but nothing is detailed at this stage.”

Israeli officials said that those who had been ordered to evacuate would move from parts of Rafah to a nearby humanitarian zone declared by Israel. My condolencesA temporary camp on the coast.

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Associated Press writers Tara Cobb in Washington and Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

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