White House monitors Rafah operation and possible ceasefire

White House monitors Rafah operation and possible ceasefire

Shafaq News / The White House announced, on Friday evening, the conclusion of face-to-face talks regarding a ceasefire agreement in Gaza in exchange for hostage release, without reaching an agreement, while suggesting that bridging the remaining gaps is still possible.

John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, said that the United States is closely monitoring the Israeli operation in Rafah in southern Gaza and wants to reopen the Rafah crossing immediately.

The United States reiterated its concern on Friday about the Israeli attack on Rafah city but did not expect any "major" operation, expressing its commitment to the possibility of reaching a ceasefire agreement.

Kirby told journalists, "We are certainly monitoring (the operation) closely, but I will not go so far as to say that what we have seen here in the last 24 hours signifies a large-scale or wide-ranging ground operation, or that it indicates that."

Earlier, the Israeli security cabinet approved the "expansion of the area of operation" of the Israel Defense Forces in the southern Gaza city, three sources with knowledge of the details told Axios.

The approval came amid growing US concerns about the humanitarian situation in Rafah, with US President Joe Biden saying this week that if Israel invades Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, the US will stop supplying it with artillery shells, bombs for fighter jets and other offensive weapons.

Two sources said this is a "measured expansion" that does not cross Biden's "red line."

The third source explained to Axios that the approved expansion "includes actions that the US could interpret as crossing Biden's red line."

Israel claims Rafah is a last holdout for Hamas militants.

The three sources added that the cabinet also instructed the Israeli team negotiating indirect talks for a hostage and ceasefire deal to continue efforts to reach a deal and formulate a new initiative to lead to a breakthrough.

The sources said "ultranationalist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich voted against the decision. The two have pushed for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to suspend negotiations and invade Rafah."

The cabinet decision comes as concern grows in the Biden administration about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Rafah area since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing earlier this week, two US officials said.

The officials said Israel didn't coordinate the capturing of the crossing well enough with the Egyptians, who got "extremely upset."

As a result, the Egyptians refused to send aid trucks, including fuel trucks, through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, the officials said.

The officials said the Biden administration is now pressing the Israelis to reopen the Rafah crossing and urging the Egyptians to send trucks through Kerem Shalom in the meantime.

However, the security situation around Kerem Shalom (Karam Abu Salem) is unstable, and the United Nations is having difficulties sending its trucks to pick up aid at the crossing.

One of the main shortages in Gaza is fuel — almost none has entered Gaza since May 7, according to one US official.

According to Axios, the UN tried buying fuel from Israel and getting it to Gaza through Kerem Shalom after the Rafah crossing was shut down, but the Israelis rejected the request because the only UN entity that had money for the fuel was UNRWA, a US official said. Israeli leaders have accused UNRWA staff of having ties to Hamas, but a report issued last month found Israel hadn't yet provided supporting evidence to its claim.

It took the UN time to find another agency to buy the fuel.

What they're saying: "We are in a week with a significant decrease in the aid that is going in," one US official said.

"This is precisely the kind of thing we warned the Israelis against. It's a microcosm of everything the Israelis have done for the past seven months, which is why we don't trust them at all to do Rafah right.

Israeli forces have increased military operations in Rafah, targeting residential towers and public facilities using F-16 aircraft and attack drones.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reported that approximately 110,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since Israel initiated troop advancements towards the eastern part of the city and intensified attacks on Monday.

The escalating conflict has led to widespread displacement and raised concerns about civilian casualties and infrastructure damage in Rafah, a densely populated area in the Gaza Strip.

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