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Middle East crisis: Israel uses US-made bombs to attack near Rafah, killing dozens

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U.S. officials said Tuesday that an Israeli assault on southern Gaza that killed dozens of Palestinians was a tragedy but did not violate President Biden’s red line of withholding arms shipments to Israel.

The bloodshed came after Mr Biden Earlier this month, the warning The United States would block certain arms transfers if Israel attacked densely populated areas of Rafah — a warning that was repeatedly verified as the war dragged on.

White House spokesman John Kirby said the death toll was “shocking” but the scale of the attack was not enough to change U.S. policy. “We don’t want to see a large-scale ground operation. We haven’t seen that yet,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby said the Israeli tanks were deployed on the outskirts of the city “to put pressure on Hamas.” He also provided a level of specificity on Biden’s warnings to Israel that critics said were too vague.

“We didn’t see them conducting some kind of coordinated maneuver in large force and column formations against multiple targets on the ground,” Kirby said. “Everything we saw told us that they were not conducting a large-scale ground operation against the population center of Rafah.”

Biden faces pressure from supporters and members of his own party to use his power to limit weapons supplies to Israel to influence its behavior in the war. The United States is by far Israel’s largest arms supplier, raising questions about U.S. responsibility as the death toll mounts.

The attack on Sunday in Rafah, which sparked a deadly fire that killed at least 45 people, including children, and injured 249, according to Gaza’s health ministry, has drawn international outrage, including from the leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, Egypt and China.

Vice President Kamala Harris, asked about Rafah on Tuesday, said “tragic is not the right word” for the deaths. She did not respond to a follow-up question about whether the attack crossed a red line for Mr. Biden.

However, the Israeli military’s actions were similar to what Biden said he would not tolerate in an interview with CNN earlier this month, when he warned that the United States would not provide Israel with weapons to attack Rafah.

“I’ve made it clear to the Cabinet and the War Cabinet that if they do move into these population centers, they will not have our support,” Biden said in the interview.

In that interview, Biden stressed that the United States would still ensure Israel’s security, and mentioned the Iron Dome missile defense system and his support for Israel’s “ability to respond to an attack.” But he said he would prevent weapons from being fired at the densely populated area of ​​Rafah.

The area hit on Sunday was not covered by an evacuation order issued by Israel in early May, and some Palestinians who have taken refuge in refugee camps have been Said they believed it was a safe zone.

The Israeli military said Sunday’s strike targeted a Hamas compound and used “precision munitions” to strike a commander and another senior official there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the loss of civilian lives was a “tragic accident.”

According to the Israeli military, approximately 1 million people fled the city during Israel’s offensive on Rafah. United Nationsincluding many people in the west of the city and around the camp that was attacked on Sunday.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the United States is closely following Israel’s investigation into the matter.

“Israel has said there may be a Hamas ammunition depot near the site of the attack,” Miller said. “That is a very important factual question that needs to be answered.”

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a news conference that Israeli warplanes fired the “smallest munitions” they had available, adding that “it would have been impossible to cause a fire of this magnitude with our munitions alone.”

Israel invaded Gaza on Oct. 7 after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people inside Israel. Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 36,000 people, many of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials.

World leaders, including Biden, have warned that a large-scale military operation in Rafah would be extremely dangerous without a proper plan to evacuate Gaza’s displaced people who have taken refuge in the city.

Mr. Miller was unable to provide details on the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Rafah in recent weeks.

“Some of them have gone back to Khan Younis,” he said. “Some of them have gone to west Rafah. Some of them have gone to Mawasi. I don’t think there is one answer.” Mr Miller said he did not know whether Israel was helping the men.

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and an adviser to Palestinian leaders in past peace talks, said Biden’s vague characterization of Israel’s “red line” on military action in Rafah benefited the White House.

“It’s definitely designed to be vague and intentional,” Elkindi said. “They don’t want to be tied down. They don’t want to tie themselves down by identifying an exact point or line because Israel will absolutely cross that line. We’ve seen that happen time and time again.”

Erica L. Green Reporting from Washington, Michael Crowley From New York.

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