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Israeli officials say the offensive in Gaza will last at least until the end of the year

US officials said Tuesday that the Israeli attack that killed dozens of Palestinians in southern Gaza was a tragedy but that it did not violate President Biden’s red line on denying weapons shipments to Israel.

The bloodshed happened after Mr. Biden warned earlier this month that the United States would stop certain weapons shipments if Israel targeted populated areas in Rafah — a warning that was tested frequently as the war began.

John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said the deaths were “devastating” but the scale of the attack was not enough to change US policy. “We don’t want to see a major ground operation,” Mr. Kirby told reporters. “We haven’t seen that yet.”

Israeli tanks were on the outskirts of the city “to try to put pressure on Hamas,” Mr. Kirby said. He also offered the level of specificity about Mr. Biden’s warning to Israel, which critics said was too vague.

“We have not seen them go out with large units and large numbers of troops in vertical lines and formations in some kind of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground,” Mr. Kirby said. “Everything we can see tells us that they are not conducting a major ground operation in the population centers in Rafah city.”

Mr. Biden has faced pressure from supporters and members of his party to use his power to cut arms to Israel as a way to influence its behavior in fight. The United States is by far the largest arms supplier to Israel, which raises questions about American responsibility as the death toll increases.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the attack in Rafah on Sunday caused a deadly fire and killed at least 45 people, including children, and injured 249. It has sparked international outrage, including from leaders in the European Union, the United Nations, Egypt and China.

Vice President Kamala Harris, when asked about Rafah on Tuesday, said “the word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe” the deaths. She did not answer a follow-up question about whether the strike crossed a red line for Mr. Biden.

However, the behavior of the Israeli military is similar to what Mr. Biden said he would not tolerate when he warned, in an interview on CNN earlier this month, that the US would not provide weapons to Israel to attack. Rafah public.

“I made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet that they would not have our support if, in fact, they entered these population centers,” Mr. Biden said in the interview.

In that interview, Mr. Biden emphasized that the United States would still ensure Israel’s security, citing the Iron Dome missile defense system and his support for the country’s “ability to respond to attacks.” Israel. However, he said he would prevent the transfer of weapons that could be fired into populated areas in Rafah.

The area attacked on Sunday was not included in the evacuation order that Israel issued in early May and some Palestinians are sheltering in the camp. said they believe it is a safe zone.

The Israeli military said the target of Sunday’s attack was a Hamas compound and that “precision munitions” were used to target a commander and another senior official there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “tragic accident” that killed civilians.

About a million people fled Rafah during the Israeli attack on the city. United Nationincluding many in the western part of the city and the area around the camp attacked on Sunday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the United States was closely monitoring Israel’s investigation into the incident.

“Israel has said there may be a Hamas ammunition dump near the area where they carried out the attack,” Mr. Miller said. “That is a very important practical question that needs to be answered.”

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a news conference that Israeli jets fired “the smallest munitions” they could use, adding that “only Our ammunition cannot create a fire of this size.”

Israel invaded Gaza following Hamas-led attacks on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people in Israel. According to health officials in Gaza, Israel’s retaliatory strike killed more than 36,000 people, many of them women and children.

World leaders, including Mr. Biden, have warned of the dangers of a major military operation in Rafah without adequate planning to evacuate displaced Gazans sheltering in there.

Mr. Miller could provide few details about the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Rafah in recent weeks.

“Some of them went back to Khan Younis,” he said. “Some of them have entered western Rafah. Some of them went to Mawasi. I don’t think there’s a single answer.” Mr. Miller said he did not know whether Israel supported those people.

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and an adviser to Palestinian leaders in previous peace talks, said the White House is benefiting from vague descriptions of “red lines.” ” by Mr. Biden regarding Israel’s military activities in Rafah.

“It’s definitely blurred and by design,” Mr. Elgindy said. “They don’t want to be oppressed. They do not want to tie themselves down by pinpointing a point or crossing line because Israel will certainly cross that line. We have seen that many times.”

Erica L. Green Contributing reports from Washington, and Michael Crowley from New York.


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