Washington has not approved Israeli operation in Rafah, US official says

Israeli military says it is preparing to send two brigades into the Gaza Strip

US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affair Barbara Leaf. AFP
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Washington has not approved Israel's impending military operation in Rafah, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

Asked whether the US had signed off on the invasion of the city in the southern Gaza Strip, Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said: “Absolutely not. “I cannot confirm that we have done any such thing. We have not greenlighted a military operation.”

Ms Leaf’s comments come as reports have circulated that Israel has conducted all of the necessary preparations for an offensive in the city.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long maintained that in order to completely defeat Hamas, Israel must enter Rafah, where it believes four Hamas battalions remain.

“Israel is moving ahead with our operation to target Hamas in Rafah,” government spokesman David Mencer told a press briefing on Wednesday.

“The four battalions which remain in Rafah cannot be shielded from Israel. They will be attacked.”

Rafah is the last refuge for more than one million Palestinians who have already been forced to flee their homes in other parts of the strip.

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Washington has repeatedly urged Israel to come up with a plan that adequately protects civilians before launching its military operation in the city, which abuts Egypt.

“We've been quite clear publicly and privately that there is no question of a military operation, major or slightly less than major, being undertaken in circumstances in which you have over a million people crowded into a very small space in the vicinity of Rafah,” Ms Leaf said.

Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman for the State Department, added that the US had consistently made its views clear on any potential invasion of Rafah.

“We are having these conversations, they're ongoing, obviously,” he said.

“In the broader sense of the conflict, we have stressed the moral and strategic imperative of protecting civilians and making sure that every possible step is taken to protect and minimise civilian casualties.

“But on the topic of an operation in Rafah, this is a conversation that we're going to continue to have.”

AFP contributed to this report

Updated: April 25, 2024, 4:53 AM