US Seeks To Dissuade Israel From Rafah Attack


U.S. and Israeli officials are holding virtual talks Monday about Israel’s plan for a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza to root out more Hamas fighters, a prospective attack the U.S. opposes for fear it would endanger more than 1.3 million Palestinians sheltering there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that “there is no victory without entering Rafah and there is no victory without eliminating the Hamas battalions there.” Netanyahu has approved a military operational plan for an attack.

But U.S. officials, led by White House national adviser Jake Sullivan, are looking to convince Israeli officials that there are other ways neutralize Hamas elements in Rafah without a ground invasion. Most of the Palestinians sheltering in the area were ordered to move there by the Israeli military to escape clashes in northern Gaza in the earliest weeks of the six-month-old conflict.

Israel has said it would protect the Palestinians from new warfare in Rafah, located just north of Gaza-Egyptian border, but has given no public indication where it would move them.

The high-level U.S.-Israeli talks are occurring a week after Netanyahu at first called them off in protest of the U.S. failure to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. The U.S. abstained from the vote on the resolution a week ago, allowing it to pass, after previously vetoing other similar resolutions.

Following Monday’s secure video conference, the U.S. said it expects that “expert teams” will hold further talks in person.

The U.S. has been Israel’s staunchest ally in the fight against Hamas, which started the war with its shock October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages. Israel’s counter-offensive in Gaza has killed more than 32,700 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, although the Israeli military says a third of those killed have been militants.

The Israeli military said Monday its forces withdrew from the area of al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza after completing an operation there.

The withdrawal comes two weeks after Israeli forces launched the operation at Gaza’s largest hospital, accusing Hamas commanders of using the site to conduct terror operations.

The Israeli military has said it killed 200 militants near the hospital, where it carried out both ground fighting and airstrikes.

Bodies were found inside and outside of the hospital complex as people returned to the site following the departure of Israeli tanks and troops.

Much of Gaza has been left in ruins by the Israeli offensive aimed at defeating the Hamas terrorist group. Many of the Palestinians sheltering in Rafah traveled there from other parts of Gaza in search of safety. 

An Israeli airstrike on Al-Aqsa hospital in Gaza killed four people and wounded 17 others, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Sunday in a post on X. 

Tedros called for an end of Israel’s attacks on hospitals in the enclave and for the “protection of patients, health personnel and humanitarian missions.” 

The strike on a tent camp inside the hospital compound was witnessed by a WHO team that was on a humanitarian mission there assessing the needs and collecting incubators for the north of Gaza, the WHO chief wrote, adding: “WHO staff are all accounted for.” 

Thousands of people have been sheltering around the hospital after the fighting forced them to flee their homes. 

In Israel Sunday, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters launched a planned three-day protest in front of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, calling for Israel to reach a deal with Hamas to free dozens of hostages, for Netanyahu’s resignation and for a general election. The protest is the largest anti-government demonstration since Israel went to war in Gaza last October. 

“Together with the negotiating team and the Cabinet, I am working around the clock to free all of our hostages,” Netanyahu said at his Sunday news conference. “I am doing so while balancing between the necessary pressure on Hamas and the flexibility that is possible in the negotiations.” 

Netanyahu also dismissed calls for an election, saying that would only delay efforts to free the hostages and “paralyze Israel for six months.” 

Netanyahu’s popularity, already dented over a domestic judicial crisis in Israel, has plummeted further since October 7, with successive opinion polls showing little faith in his leadership and a defeat by more centrist rivals if an election were to be held. 

Fighting in Gaza has continued despite the U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution last week that also called for the release of all hostages held by the militant group. 

With the war nearing the six-month mark, the United States, Qatar and Egypt have been trying to mediate another cease-fire and hostage release since the only previous one in November. 

Netanyahu approved a return to cease-fire talks with Hamas on Friday. 

Hamas, however, would not be present at the talks in Cairo, an official told the Reuters news agency Sunday, as it waited to hear from mediators on whether a new Israeli offer was on the table.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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