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White House says Israel still has no plan to protect civilians in Rafah

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President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said on Monday that while the United States is committed to defending Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has yet to provide the White House with a plan to safely evacuate nearly a million Gazans from Rafah before any Israeli invasion. plan. City.

In a lengthy speech to reporters, adviser Jake Sullivan also said Israel had yet to link its military operations to a political plan for the future governance of the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Sullivan, who has been a central figure in the government’s response to the Oct. 7 terror attack in Israel and its aftermath, detailed the government’s intervention to achieve a ceasefire and repatriate hostages, including Americans, still in the hands of Hamas. But while repeatedly expressing support for Israel, he made it clear Biden was frustrated in dealing with Netanyahu after a series of heated conversations between the two.

Mr Sullivan insisted that the only weapons Mr Biden withheld from the Israelis were 2,000-pound bombs, amid fears Israel would use American munitions capable of leveling entire city blocks to repel Hamas leaders. A network of tunnels located deep within the city.

He pointed out that the United States is still sending defensive weapons and a range of offensive weapons that will not cause significant civilian casualties.

“We continue to believe that it would be wrong to launch a major military operation in the center of Rafah that would put large numbers of civilians at risk with no clear strategic gain,” Sullivan said. “The president has made it clear that if such an action were to occur, “He will not provide certain offensive weapons for such operations.”

But he insisted that this “has not happened yet” despite intensified bombing around the city, and said the United States “is still working with Israel on better ways to ensure the defeat of Hamas across Gaza, including in Gaza.” Law.”

Still, House Republicans are planning to push a bill that would condemn Biden for suspending shipments of 2,000-pound bombs. It would be a symbolic move — the bill is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate — but appears to be part of an effort to turn weapons seizures into an election-year issue; many Democrats have been urging Biden to suspend or limit the Israeli arms sales.

The vote was intended to divide Democrats on an issue that has always divided them and serve as another way for Republicans to show themselves as true friends of Israel.

Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called Biden’s weapons seizure a “disastrous policy decision” that was “deliberately concealed from Congress and the American people.”

Just eight days ago, the State Department was still arguing that the weapons seizure was a technicality. But after the news leaked, Biden himself admitted in an interview with CNN that he had made this decision.

When Sullivan said the United States was still working with Israel to find solutions to the terrorists in Rafah, he seemed to be referring to a series of tense interactions with Israel over alternatives to a full-scale invasion. These operations have focused primarily on targeted counterterrorism operations, similar to the way Israel pursued the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Sullivan declined to discuss recent reports that U.S. intelligence officials suspect that Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s most senior official in Gaza, is no longer in Rafah. But he acknowledged that an attack on the southern city would make less sense if Sinwar moved his base of operations elsewhere.

He was angry that Israel, seven months after the initial terror attacks, had failed to develop a plan for how to govern Gaza after the war ended, or for how to link military attacks on Gaza to political objectives.

“We are discussing with Israel how to link its military operations to a clear strategic outcome and develop a comprehensive, integrated strategy to ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas and create a better future for the Gaza and Palestinian people,” he said. future.” .

He said Israel’s current approach was failing and that there was a resurgence in the previously bombed northern areas of Hamas, which had ruled Gaza for years, albeit often corruptly. He said the government fears the same will happen in Rafah and elsewhere unless military action is linked to a credible Palestinian governance plan.

Annie Carney Contributed reporting.

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