Israel abandons full-scale Rafah invasion after US talks

Israeli tanks advanced to edge of a crowded district in the centre of Rafah, witnesses say
Israeli tanks advanced to edge of a crowded district in the centre of Rafah on Wednesday, witnesses say - Saeed Qaq/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Israel appears to have abandoned its plans for a major invasion of Rafah in favour of targeted incursions to eradicate Hamas from the area, US officials have said.

The United States had for weeks warned Israel against going into Rafah, the last city in Gaza untouched by heavy fighting, and Israel had taken the US concerns into account, a senior US official said late on Tuesday.

“It’s fair to say, I think, the Israelis have updated their plans. They’ve incorporated many of the concerns that we have expressed,” the US official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters.

“This is an ongoing discussion, ongoing conversation. It’s been constructive.”

The official was referring to last week’s talks in Israel between Mr Netanyahu and Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser.

Joe Biden, the US president, has repeatedly voiced his categorical opposition to a major invasion in Rafah, arguing that the operation in the town packed with displaced Palestinians is likely to claim too many civilian lives.

Israeli tanks rolled into the outskirts of Rafah earlier this month but its operations there have so far appeared limited.

Those statements came as the latest US intelligence shows that Israel is far from achieving “total victory” in Gaza, as once touted by Mr Netanyahu.

Israeli troops go house to house in Rafah after invasion plans were scaled back
Israeli troops go house to house in Rafah after invasion plans were scaled back - Telegram/IDF

No more than 35 per cent of Hamas fighters have been killed in Gaza since the war began and about 65 per cent of its underground tunnels are still intact, Politico reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed US officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence.

Hamas has also been able to recruit several thousand new members during wartime, according to the US officials. It is not clear, however, whether these individuals joined the ranks of Hamas forces on the ground or its political wing.

Inside Gaza, the humanitarian crisis is deepening as the Pentagon reported that none of the aid that had been loaded on lorries and dispatched from a new US-built temporary pier was delivered.

Crowds of desperate Palestinians intercepted and emptied the lorries with aid this weekend, leading the UN to suspend the deliveries, a Pentagon spokesman said, adding that they were working with the UN on new delivery routes.

On Wednesday, witnesses in Gaza said Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of a crowded district in the centre of Rafah during an intense night of bombardment.

Israel Defense Forces tanks took up new positions further west than before along the southern border fence with Egypt and were now stationed on the edge of the Yibna neighbourhood in central Rafah, residents and militants told Reuters. They reportedly have not yet entered the district.

Spooked by the reports of an imminent Israeli invasion of Rafah, Palestinians there had been fleeing northwards, with some 800,000 people leaving the area in about two weeks, according to the UN.

The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Wednesday raised the alarm about overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in the areas where the locals had fled to, with no better alternative in the sealed-off enclave available.

UNRWA said the population of its facilities in Khan Younis, a city to the north of Rafah that was badly bombed earlier this year, alone has increased by over a third in the past fortnight.

Photos from UNRWA facilities there showed Palestinians living amongst the rubble in damaged school buildings, with no tents or vital services.

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