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Israel threatens Rafah invasion

Netanyahu warns of military action in Rafah amidst tensions with US

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that Israel will invade Rafah if Hamas continues to make an end to the war a condition of the hostage deal, two Israeli and US officials said.

Netanyahu has been threatening to invade Rafa for months but has held off mainly due to US pressure.

The White House is deeply concerned about the possibility of an Israeli military incursion into Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip where more than a million displaced Palestinians have taken refuge.

According to US-based Axios, Anthony Blinken told Netanyahu during a meeting in Jerusalem that the US still opposes an Israeli operation in Rafah without a credible plan to protect civilians in the city, US and Israeli officials said.

Blinken said the White House believes there are better options for dealing with Hamas battalions remaining in Rafah than a full-scale military operation. One of Hamas' main demands in the hostage negotiations is Israel's commitment to end the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu told Blinken that Israel would not accept that condition, according to Israeli officials.

The Israeli proposal delivered to Hamas last week included a willingness to discuss " restoring sustainable calm " in Gaza – which falls short of a full commitment to end the war, but is more than Israel has agreed to so far.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken and Netanyahu discussed efforts to achieve an immediate cease-fire in Gaza under the hostage deal and stressed that Hamas is standing in the way of the ceasefire.

During the meeting, Blinken raised the issue of improving the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza in recent weeks, Miller said.

“He also discussed the need to avoid further expansion of the conflict and briefed the prime minister on ongoing efforts to ensure lasting, sustainable peace in the region. The secretary reiterated the United States' clear position on Rafa," Miller said.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said the Israeli prime minister told Blinken that the Israeli operation in Rafah was not contingent on anything.

In meetings with regional leaders in Riyadh on Monday, Mr. Blinken said the most effective way to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza would be to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, the US secretary of state noted that "progress" has been made in delivering aid to Gaza, which Israel has besieged for six months, but more needs to be done.

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