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Israeli bombs drop on Rafah as Gazans flee their homes

Israeli bombs drop on Rafah as Gazans flee their homes

Reports: Airstrikes began shortly after an evacuation order was issued

Reporting | QiOSK

Israel has begun launching airstrikes in Rafah ahead of a likely invasion of the city, where more than 1.5 million Gazans have taken shelter in camps near the border with Egypt.

The airstrikes came just hours after the Israeli government told Palestinians to flee the city, a demand that aid groups fear will worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where famine has begun to take hold. The European Union’s foreign policy chief called the evacuation order “unacceptable.”

The apparent decision to invade Rafah comes as ceasefire talks broke down over the weekend. Israel says the logjam came after an alleged Hamas attack on Israeli soldiers at the Kerem Shalom crossing, while Hamas blamed the breakdown on Israel’s decision to start evacuations of Rafah.

The possibility of an Israeli assault in Rafah puts President Joe Biden in a precarious position. The White House has already found itself at odds with many Democrats due to Biden’s refusal to break with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his deadly campaign in Gaza. A bloody escalation of the war would further divide his party and ratchet up pressure to do something to stop Israel’s campaign.

Biden may have already internalized that message. On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that, absent a credible plan to protect civilians, “we can’t support a major military operation going into Rafah because the damage it would do is beyond what’s acceptable.”

But the Biden administration has consistently balked at opportunities to hold Israel accountable for alleged war crimes and human rights abuses. Just last week, the White House walked back a threat to restrict weapons transfers to certain Israeli units due to “gross violations of human rights.”

A new chance to restrict arms sales could come Wednesday of this week, when the Biden administration will issue a mandatory report to Congress evaluating Israel’s assurances that it won’t use American weapons in ways that violate U.S. and international laws.

An independent analysis from legal experts and former State Department officials found numerous attacks that should have already triggered a cutoff in U.S. support. And nearly 90 House Democrats signed a letter last week calling on the administration to suspend certain weapons transfers to Israel.

A key question is whether a Rafah invasion will further restrict the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid. Experts say Israel has already violated U.S. law stipulating that Washington will not give weapons to countries that block American aid transfers, and a Rafah invasion would likely lead to further violations.

There is also significant doubt surrounding Israeli assurances that its operation will minimize harm to civilians. Those who are now fleeing Rafah will reportedly have to evacuate to nearby Khan Younis and al-Mawasi, neither of which has the capacity to receive incoming displaced people or provide them with much-needed aid.

It’s unclear how many Gazans will be able to escape before the full-scale assault begins. Israel’s previous actions suggest that its tolerance for killing civilians is higher than that of that of the Biden administration.

Biden will have a chance to impart that message later today, when he will reportedly speak with Netanyahu and presumably urge the Israeli leader to change course. But the question remains: Is the Biden administration finally ready to publicly break with Israel?

Palesitinians leave Khan Yunis towards safer areas in Rafah following the directives of the Israeli army, instructing residents of the Hamad area to vacate their homes and proceed towards Rafah, near the border with Egypt, 03/04/2024 via Reuters
Reporting | QiOSK
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