US is ‘helping Israel target Hamas leaders’ in hopes of limiting invasion of Rafah

For weeks, Israeli officials have warned of imminent invasion in the southern city Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians fled to escape fighting in the north of Gaza

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 14 May 2024 03:50 BST
Palestinian death toll nears 35,000 as Israel ramps up strikes

The Biden administration is sharing intelligence with Israel to help it target Hamas leadership and conduct other combat operations in the hope of limiting the invasion of Rafah, according toThe Washington Post.

For weeks, Israeli officials have warned of imminent invasion in the southern city Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians fled to escape fighting in the north of Gaza.

On Sunday, the exodus of Palestinians from Gaza’s last refuge accelerated as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Rafah. Israel also pounded the territory’s devastated north, where some Hamas militants have regrouped in areas the military said it had cleared months ago.

Rafah is considered Hamas’ last stronghold. Some 300,000 of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there have fled the city following evacuation orders from Israel, which says it must invade to dismantle Hamas and return scores of hostages taken from Israel in the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

A boy looks on as Palestinians prepare to flee Rafah after Israeli forces launched a ground and air operation in the eastern part of the southern Gaza city on 12 May (REUTERS)

The White House, State Department, and a number of Democrats are vocally opposed to those plans, stating that the US does not believe an assault can be carried out with appropriate considerations for civilians caught in the crossfire. President Joe Biden told CNN last week that he would cut off specific types of military aid to Israel if a full-scale attack was launched in Rafah.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said. “But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to – we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported new details of the Biden administration’s steps to limit the Rafah attacks. The US intelligence community is reportedly sharing information with its Israeli counterparts to assist the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in locating Hamas leadership as well as the group’s purported tunnel system alleged to exist throughout Gaza.

Biden administration officials have committed to intelligence-sharing with the “hopes they will persuade Israel to conduct a more limited and targeted operation in the southern Gaza city,” the Post reported.

One unnamed official told the Post: “We have serious concerns about how Israel has prosecuted this campaign, and that could all come to a head in Rafah.”

A State Department official noted to The Independent that the agency does not comment on the details of private diplomatic talks, but did not refute any of the facts laid out by the Post’s reporting. The agency spokesperson added that State Department officials “continue discussions with Israel to address humanitarian concerns, including increasing life-saving assistance, supplementing aid, creating more entry points for assistance to get into Gaza, allowing fuel entry, and ensuring freedom of movement for humanitarian workers.”

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2023 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar remains in hiding. The group maintains a political office in Qatar through which limited negotiations, facilitated by the US, have taken place.

More than 35,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began seven months ago, according to estimates from the health authority there.

More than 1,100 Israelis died in the 7 October terrorist attack which ignited the conflict, the deadliest in Israel’s history. More than 100 of the 251 hostages taken from Israel that day are believed to be in the territory.

President Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Israel’s handling of the war against Hamas and his administration in recent days paused a shipment of high-payload weaponry to the ally as US officials increasingly point to an assault on Rafah as a “red line”.

At the same time, the Biden administration has faced growing criticism from Democrats over all miltary assistance to Israel, given allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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