US and Israel discuss Rafah military operation

In-person meetings could take place as soon as next week, after cancellations and a political showdown

Palestinian boys ride a donkey-pulled cart near a building destroyed in an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. AFP
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The US and Israel on Monday said “constructive engagement” took place during a meeting about a possible Israeli military incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The conversation comes as the US has pushed its ally Israel to commit to staying out of Rafah until it has a viable plan to protect the more than one million civilians sheltering there.

A joint statement issued by the White House said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke online with Israeli counterparts after previous attempts to meet in Washington fell through.

“The two sides over the course of two hours had a constructive engagement on Rafah,” the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group said.

“They agreed that they share the objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah.”

Rafah, which borders Egypt, is hosting about 1.4 million people, the UN estimates, including many who have fled other parts of the Palestinian enclave due to Israeli military operations.

President Joe Biden has suggested that any Israeli plan to enter Rafah without accounting for civilians would be a “red line”.

Mr Biden in a March phone call asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to send senior officials to Washington to hear alternatives to such an operation.

However, a US abstention on a UN Security Council resolution that called for a Gaza ceasefire saw Mr Netanyahu cancel his inter-agency delegation trip to Washington.

He later made a U-turn, allowing senior advisers to communicate with counterparts in Washington and opening up the opportunity for Monday's virtual meeting.

“The US side expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah,” the joint statement continued.

“The Israeli side agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow up discussions between experts.”

Washington has said it would present alternatives to tackling Hamas battalions – that Israel claims are located in Rafah – while protecting civilians.

Authorities also said that in-person meetings of the Strategic Consultative Group would take place “as early as next week”.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 4:09 AM