US and Israeli officials discuss intentions for Rafah invasion

Talks come as Israel threatens retaliation against Iran for attack at the weekend

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan led the US team in talks with Israel over Rafah. Reuters
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Senior White House officials held an online meeting with Israeli authorities on Thursday to discuss plans to invade the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

The White House said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan led the US side, while Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi led the Israelis.

"The main purpose really is to talk about Rafah and to continue to have a conversation with the Israelis about their intentions, and to also share our continued concerns over a major ground offensive there," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Air Force One.

US President Joe Biden has said that Washington opposes a large-scale Israeli military operation in Rafah, as it would endanger Palestinian civilians.

The UN has estimated there are 1.3 million people in the southern Gaza city, with many displaced after fleeing Israeli operations in other parts of the territory.

More than 33,900 people have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza so far, according to local authorities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to retaliate after Iran launched a barrage of drones and missiles towards Israel at the weekend.

"The discussion began in a small group format to discuss the Iran attack and the collective efforts to further enhance Israel’s defence through advanced capabilities, as well as co-operation with a broad coalition of military partners," the White House said after Thursday's meeting.

"The two sides agreed on the shared objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah.

"US participants expressed concerns with various courses of action in Rafah, and Israeli participants agreed to take these concerns into account and to have further follow-up discussions between experts."

For weeks, the White House has been trying to hold in-person talks with Israeli officials to discuss Rafah, but so far no date has been set.

Mr Netanyahu initially agreed to send a high-level delegation to Washington to hear US concerns in March but backed out over a controversial UN vote.

On Thursday, media outlets reported that the US had given tacit approval for an invasion of Rafah in exchange for a limited attack on Iran.

But a National Security Council official told The National that the reports were “not accurate”.

Washington has repeatedly said it wants to avoid the Israel-Gaza war spilling over into other parts of the region.

Updated: April 18, 2024, 8:30 PM