Israel agrees not to invade Rafah until consulting with US, Biden admin official says

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Israel has said it will not invade the border city of Rafah in southern Gaza until officials have spoken with U.S. leaders about their concerns, White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby said on Sunday.

“They've assured us that they won't go into Rafah until we've had a chance to really share our perspectives and our concerns with them,” Kirby said during an interview on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday. 

Israel in recent days appeared poised to launch an invasion of the area, where more than one million Palestinians civilians are sheltering and which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza. The international community has long warned Israeli leaders of the massive humanitarian toll of targeting the area.

President Joe Biden argued in March that an attack of Rafah would be a “mistake” but more recently said that the U.S. and Israel have a “shared objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is slated to visit Israel this week, and Kirby said negotiating a 6-week ceasefire in the war will be at the top of his agenda. The U.S. is pushing for an arrangement that would allow for the flow of additional humanitarian aid into Gaza as well as the release of Israeli and Palestinian hostages held by Hamas, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Blinken is required to report to Congress next week on whether Israel’s claims that it is using U.S. weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law are credible.

But multiple senior state department officials have advised Blinken that they don’t believe Israel’s assertions that it is abiding by international law are "credible or reliable," according to reporting by Reuters.

In a memo, the officials cited eight examples of Israeli military actions that the officials said raise "serious questions" about potential violations of international humanitarian law. Some officials disagreed with their colleagues, according to the outlet.

But the examples included repeatedly striking protected sites and civilian infrastructure; "unconscionably high levels of civilian harm to military advantage"; taking little action to investigate violations or to hold to account those responsible for significant civilian harm and "killing humanitarian workers and journalists at an unprecedented rate," according to Reuters.

Humanitarian workers have been killed by Israeli airstrikes while delivering food and medicine to people in dire need.

In recent days, the U.S. military has begun constructing a floating pier off the coast of Gaza that will receive shipments of food and other humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.

Kirby said on Sunday that the pier will take two or three weeks to construct and “will help increase the volume of aid that's getting into Gaza.”

However, he added that “nothing can replace the ground routes, and the trucks that are getting in.”

“What we're hoping is that after six weeks of a temporary ceasefire, we can maybe get something more enduring in place,” Kirby said. “We want to see an end to the conflict as soon as possible.”

Contributing: Dan Morrison, Joey Garrison, Tom Vanden Brook USA TODAY; Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel agrees to consult with US before Rafah efforts: Biden official