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Fears Rise of Full-Scale Israeli Invasion of Rafah: Live Updates

A White House spokesman warned on Thursday that Israel “smashing into Rafah” would not eradicate Hamas as he urged the country to find alternatives to the long-threatened assault on a city where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

John F. Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said President Biden shares Israel’s goal of eradicating the terrorist group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

But Mr. Biden has grown increasingly wary of a major assault in the densely populated city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Since the war began, more than 34,000 people have died in Gaza, according to local health authorities. The United States fears an operation in Rafah would lead to widespread civilian casualties.

“An enduring defeat of Hamas certainly remains the Israeli goal, and we share that goal with them,” Mr. Kirby said. “Smashing into Rafah, in his view, will not advance that objective, will not get to that sustainable and enduring defeat of Hamas.”

Those concerns led Mr. Biden last week to pause the delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel — the first time he had leveraged U.S. arms to try to influence how the war is waged. On Wednesday, he said he would also withhold artillery if Israel went ahead with a major operation in Rafah.

“If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” Mr. Biden said in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

He also acknowledged that Israel had used American bombs to kill civilians in Gaza, reflecting his growing unease with the mounting death toll as the war grinds on.

Israeli military vehicles near the border fence with the Gaza Strip on Thursday.Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mr. Kirby also tried to assuage concerns that the United States was breaking with its closest ally in the Middle East.

“The argument that somehow we’re walking away from Israel fly in the face of the facts,” Mr. Kirby said Thursday, citing Mr. Biden’s visit to Israel within the days of the Oct. 7 attack, providing money and military expertise for its war, and putting American fighter pilots in the sky to shoot down Iranian drones.

He said the United States believes that Israel has “put an enormous amount of pressure on Hamas, and that there are better ways to go after what is left of Hamas in Rafah than a major ground operation.”

Mr. Kirby said the United States was still working with Israel on ways it can help it defeat Hamas, such as ensuring that the border between Gaza and Egypt cannot be used for smuggling weapons and targeting Hamas’s leaders.

He also noted that while the United States has temporarily paused the transfer of bombs, Israel was “still getting the vast, vast majority of everything that they need to defend themselves,” and that a recent funding package passed by Congress will continue to send billions to Israel.

Mr. Biden’s decision to pause certain weapons shipments to Israel underscored brewing frustrations between Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu has said that Israel would move forward with its invasion in Rafah even without global support. In the last week, Israeli forces have carried out a number of targeted strikes in Rafah, and showed other signs of a major ground invasion, including the evacuation of more than 100,000 people.

On Thursday, the Israeli leader said: “If we need to stand alone, we will stand alone. I have said that, if necessary, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails and with that same strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we will win.”

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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