Rafah Assault on Hold as US-Israel Talks Back On

WASHINGTON — Israeli plans for a ground invasion of Rafah are on hold as Israeli and American officials work to reschedule a meeting to discuss the plan, the White House announced Thursday.

The Biden administration expects that there will be no assault on Rafah at least until after the meeting, national security communications adviser John Kirby said in a briefing to reporters.

No date for the talks has been set, he said.

The meeting is back on after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed his decision to cancel sending a delegation of war strategists to Washington to discuss his government’s intentions to root out Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city.

Netanyahu canceled the delegation on Monday to protest a U.S. abstention at the United Nations Security Council that allowed passage of a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Israeli-Hamas war. The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Netanyahu agreed to reschedule the meeting.

Top Biden officials have urged Israel to abandon plans to attack Rafah, where over 1.4 million Palestinian civilians seek safety, as bilateral tensions brew over Israel’s conduct in its nearly six-month war against Hamas.

In two days of meetings in Washington earlier this week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William Burns implored Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to find alternatives that would avoid more casualties in Gaza, where the death toll has topped 32,000, according to Palestinian figures.

The discussions with Gallant “were not meant to replace what we hope to be able to do in a more comprehensive way with the Israeli delegation coming to D.C.,” Kirby said.

Netanyahu insists that the goal of “total victory” against Hamas cannot be achieved without going into Rafah, where Israel says there are four Hamas battalions composed of thousands of fighters.

“To win this war, we must destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah,” the prime minister said Tuesday via video conference to the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “If not, Hamas will regroup, rearm and reconquer Gaza, and then we’re back to square one. And that’s an intolerable threat that we cannot accept.”

Meanwhile, despite an extensive diplomatic push by U.S. officials, together with Qatari and Egyptian mediators, talks in Qatar on a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages held by Hamas remain deadlocked.

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