This picture taken from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, shows smoke rising over buildings in Khan Yunis during Israeli bombardment on February 8, 2024, as fighting continues between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group in Gaza. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
(AFP) – The United States on Thursday warned Israel that staging a military push into the southern Gaza city of Rafah without proper planning would run the risk of becoming a “disaster.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, after rejecting what he labelled Hamas‘s “bizarre demands” in truce talks, and air strikes have been stepped up.
State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington had “yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” adding: “To conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area” where one million people are sheltering “would be a disaster.”
Patel emphasized that any such military offensive was “not something we’d support,” noting that Rafah is a crucial entry point for humanitarian aid destined for Gaza.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a regional tour on Thursday without securing a pause in fighting. It was his fifth crisis tour of the Middle East since the war started.
Blinken conveyed Washington’s concerns to Netanyahu directly during their talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem, Patel said.
Publicly, the US secretary of state warned that any “military operation that Israel undertakes needs to put civilians first and foremost.”
The conflict, sparked by Hamas‘s October 7 attack on southern Israel, is now in its fifth month.
The Hamas attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,840 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Militants also seized around 250 hostages. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
© Agence France-Presse