US voices renewed concern over Israeli military operation in Rafah following air strikes

Overnight strikes in southern Gaza kill at least 164 people

Palestinians inspect a building in Rafah destroyed in an Israeli air strike. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

The US State Department on Monday doubled down on its concern over Israel pressing ahead with a military operation in Rafah, one of the last places of refuge for Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.

“We do not support any military campaign in Rafah going forward as long as they cannot properly account for the 1.1 million people who are in Rafah,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Israel launched a round of devastating air strikes overnight in Rafah that killed at least 164 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The strikes came as Israeli forces rescued two hostages kidnapped by Hamas militants from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz on October 7.

“We certainly do not want to see any more human suffering among those in Gaza, which is why we continue to communicate actively with their Israeli partners on the importance of taking civilians into account in planning and conducting their operations,” Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder told reporters at a separate briefing.

But Mr Miller said the air strikes did not necessarily indicate that Israel had begun an expected military operation in the southern Gazan city.

“It is not our assessment that this air strike is the launch of a full-scale offensive happening in Rafah,” Mr Miller told reporters at a regular press briefing.

More than 100 killed in Israeli bombing of Rafah – video

More than 100 killed in Israeli bombing of Rafah

More than 100 killed in Israeli bombing of Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he plans to press on in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have been forced to take shelter, as the war has consumed nearly every other corner of the densely populated enclave.

The southern city, which borders Egypt, had a prewar population of about 280,000 but it now hosts another 1.4 million people who have fled their homes from other parts of Gaza, the UN estimates.

“It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war without eliminating Hamas, and by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Mr Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

“On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.”

Last week, Mr Netanyahu ordered the military to come up with a plan to expel people from the southern city of Rafah as Israel prepares a new military offensive.

During a weekend phone call, US President Joe Biden expressed his concern to Mr Netanyahu of a potential military operation without proper planning.

“He reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,' the White House said in a readout of the call.

Reports in US media suggest that Mr Biden, who has known the Israeli leader for more than 40 years, has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr Netanyahu as the war drags on and the Palestinian death toll balloons to more than 28,000.

Latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

Updated: February 12, 2024, 8:11 PM