US warns Israel against launching Rafah offensive after Gaza ceasefire resolution

'There is a better way,' US envoy to world body says

Israeli soldiers sit on top of a tank along the border with Gaza. AFP
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The US warned Israel on Tuesday against a ground offensive in Rafah, saying it is “not the way to do it”.

“Our advice to Israel is there is a better way,” deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said a day after the Security Council demanded an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to press ahead with the war in Gaza and condemned the council's resolution, saying it had emboldened Hamas to reject a separate proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release.

As the conflict continues in its sixth month, Israel and Hamas maintain that their respective definitions of victory are attainable, dismissing global attempts to end the war.

The US decision not to block the Security Council resolution has increased tension with Israel.

“That is a message that President [Joe] Biden, Secretary [Antony] Blinken, Secretary [Lloyd] Austin and ambassador [Linda] Thomas-Greenfield all have communicated to senior Israeli officials in recent weeks, and we will continue to emphasise,” Mr Wood said at a Security Council briefing on the Middle East.

UN Security Council passes the first ceasefire resolution in Gaza – video

UN Security Council passes the first ceasefire resolution in Gaza

UN Security Council passes the first ceasefire resolution in Gaza

He said the Gaza resolution is “only one step” towards a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages.

“We need diplomacy on the ground,” Mr Wood said. “We should all be pressing Hamas to agree to this deal without delay.”

Hamas said it would hold on to the hostages until Israel agrees to a more permanent ceasefire, withdraws its forces from Gaza and releases hundreds of Palestinian detainees.

In her remarks to the council on Monday, US ambassador Ms Thomas-Greenfield claimed that the new resolution was non-binding.

“Do the statements by Ms Thomas-Greenfield and other officials mean that the US does not consider Security Council resolutions to be binding for the implementation by member states?” asked Vasily Nebenzya, Russia's UN envoy.

Israel targets Rafah with air strikes – in pictures

“Israel now, despite a direct demand from the Security Council, has complete carte blanche and is not planning to stop until it razes Gaza to the ground,” noted Mr Nebenzya.

Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, told The National that the Biden administration is “deliberately leaving open the option” that could allow Israel to resume military action against Hamas if it does not release the hostages.

“The US is clearly not in favour of an unconditional ceasefire, unlike many other members of the UN,” Mr Gowan said.

“We don't know what the US is saying to Israel in private about the resolution, but we do know that the Israelis are angry the US abstained on it.”

After the resolution was passed, Mr Netanyahu's office announced it had cancelled a visit to Washington by a delegation that would have been focused on discussing alternatives to a ground invasion of Rafah.

Updated: March 27, 2024, 6:47 AM