White House says Israel’s Rafah strike and ground assault don’t cross Biden’s ‘red line’

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Israel’s Actions in Rafah days after an attack caused a large fire that killed scores of Palestinians, Israeli soldiers advanced farther into Rafah, but the White House insisted that its ally had not breached the “red line” set by the Biden administration.

As international condemnation over the deaths in a packed tent camp for displaced civilians grew, Israeli tanks were spotted entering central Rafah for the first time on Tuesday. Additionally, U.S. aid deliveries to Gaza by boat were halted due to damage to its temporary port.

During a briefing, however, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby informed reporters that the U.S. was not “turning a blind eye” to Israel’s actions in the southern Gaza city, where almost a million Palestinians have fled in recent weeks.

According to him, the Biden administration did not think that Israel’s operations in Rafah thus far constituted a “major ground operation” that would defy President Joe Biden’s warnings and lead to a shift in U.S. policy, which would include the threatened suspension of weaponry shipments.

Israel's Actions in Rafah
Israel’s Actions in Rafah

“A major ground operation is, you know, 1000s and 1000s of troops moving in a manoeuvred, concentrated, coordinated way against various targets on the ground,” he stated.

According to an American official who spoke to NBC News, the U.S. thought the death attack was a “horrific incident.” Still, it seemed to be the consequence of an airstrike gone “horribly wrong” and wasn’t indicative of Israel “smashing into Rafah.”

Before this month, Biden spoke with CNN and stated: “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah—they haven’t gone in Rafah yet—if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem.”

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Kirby said that Israeli officials had insisted that their tanks were moving along the Philadelphi Corridor, a crucial strategic strip of land running along the Egypt-Gaza border, and “not in the town proper.” This was in response to NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez’s question about how Israeli tanks appearing near central Gaza did not represent a full-scale ground operation.

“The Israelis have stated that,” Kirby answered. “We’re going based on what the Israelis are telling us and what they’re saying publicly and what we’re able to discern, as best we can.”

Shortly after an Israeli bombardment ignited a fire that destroyed a tent camp in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood, Kirby made his remarks. Local health officials reported that the fire killed at least forty-five individuals, including children.

The strike has increased the amount of pressure coming from around the world after Israel was ordered to stop its onslaught in Rafah by the top court of the UN. According to the Associated Press news agency, the UN Security Council may vote as early as Wednesday on a draft resolution that Algeria circulated demanding a cease-fire in Gaza and urging Israel to end its offensive immediately.

An Israeli official told NBC News that Israel sent fresh cease-fire proposals to mediators in Qatar, Egypt, and the United States on Monday. As required by Hamas, the proposal called for a “sustainable calm,” but it did not call for an end to the fighting.

Leading Hamas leader Basem Naim told NBC News on Tuesday that Hamas has yet to receive a proposal from the mediators.

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Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari stated during a briefing on Tuesday that Israel was still looking into the strike, including the source of the fire that he claimed “resulted in this tragic loss of life.”

Hagari said that two top Hamas terrorists were the target of two 17-kilogram (37.5-pound) missiles fired by the IDF. However, he claimed that a fire was started accidentally and was “unexpected and unintended.”

He raised the likelihood that the fire was started by weapons stored in the targeted area, although he called that theory an “assumption” at this point. Both an American and an Israeli official reportedly told NBC News that it’s believed the fire was started by a fuel tank that was struck.

The images from the strike have piled pressure on the U.S. to act.

Asked during Tuesday’s White House briefing how many “charred corpses” Biden needed to see before changing policy, Kirby said he took “offense” to the question, saying: “We don’t want to see a single more innocent life taken.”

The IDF has waged a monthslong ground offensive in Gaza during which more than 36,000 people have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The usage of the term “red line” by former President Barack Obama in August 2012 to warn against the deployment of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war is reminiscent of Biden’s warning regarding the United States.

The Obama administration’s red line was criticized for appearing to be “written in disappearing ink” by presidential rival John McCain, who said that Obama had allowed the border to be crossed without taking any action from the US.