Netanyahu agrees to send Israeli officials to Washington to discuss possible Rafah operation

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu On Monday it agreed to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington to discuss with Biden administration officials a possible operation in Rafah, as each side seeks to “make its perspective clear to the other,” the White House national security adviser said. , Jake Sullivan.

The agreement to hold talks on Rafah came as Biden and Netanyahu They spoke Monday, their first interaction in more than a month, as division has grown between allies over the food crisis in Gaza and Israel’s conduct during the war, according to the White House.

The White House has been skeptical of Netanyahu’s plan to carry out an operation in the southern city of Rafah, where around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltered, as Israel seeks to eliminate Hamas after The deadly Hamas attack on October 7.

Sullivan said Biden on the call once again urged Netanyahu not to carry out an operation in Rafah and questioned the Israeli leader about establishing a “coherent and sustainable strategy” to defeat Hamas.

“The president has rejected, and did so again today, the straw man that raising questions about Rafah is the same as raising questions about the defeat of Hamas,” Sullivan said. “That’s just nonsense. Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else, but a major ground operation there would be a mistake. “It would lead to more deaths of innocent civilians, worsen the already terrible humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally.”

The call comes after Republicans in Washington and Israeli officials rushed to express outrage after the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer harshly criticizedNetanyahu management the war in gaza and called for Israel to hold new elections. They accused the Democratic leader of violating the unwritten rule of not interfering in the electoral politics of a close ally.

Biden has not endorsed Schumer’s call for the election, but said he thought he gave a “good speech” that reflected the concerns of many Americans. Netanyahu expressed his concern about Schumer’s calls for new elections, Sullivan said.

Biden administration officials have warned that they would not support an operation in Rafah without the Israelis presenting a credible plan to ensure the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Israel has yet to present such a plan, according to White House officials.

Netanyahu, in a statement after the call, made no direct mention of the tension.

“We discussed the latest developments in the war, including Israel’s commitment to achieving all of the war’s objectives: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza never (again) constitutes a threat to Israel, at the same time that we provide the necessary humanitarian aid that will help achieve these goals,” Netanyahu said.

The Biden-Netanyahu call also came as a new report warned that “Famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70% of the remaining population suffers from catastrophic hunger, and that a new escalation of the war could bring around half of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation. The report came from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a partnership of more than a dozen governments, UN aid and other agencies that determines the severity of food crises.

Netanyahu lashed out at American criticism on Sunday, describing calls for new elections as “totally inappropriate.”

Netanyahu told Fox News that Israel would never have called new elections in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and denounced Schumer’s comments as inappropriate.

“We are not a banana republic,” he said. “The people of Israel will choose when they hold elections and who they will choose, and it is not something that is imposed on us.”

Even as they express frustration over aspects of Israeli operations, the White House acknowledges that Israel has made significant progress in degrading Hamas. And Sullivan revealed on Monday that an Israeli operation last week killed Hamas’s third commander, Marwan Issa.

Biden after his State of the Union address earlier this month was captured a hot microphone tell a Democratic ally that he had told Netanyahu they would have a “come to Jesus” meeting over the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His frustration with Netanyahu’s continuation of the war was also evident in a recent MSNBC interview, in which he claimed that Netanyahu was “harming Israel.”

“He has the right to defend Israel, the right to continue pursuing Hamas,” Biden said of Netanyahu in the MSNBC interview. “But you must, you must, you must pay more attention to the innocent lives that are lost as a result of the actions taken. “He is suffering… in my opinion, he is harming Israel more than helping Israel.”

The president announced during his State of the Union address that the U.S. military would help establish a temporary dock intended to increase the amount of aid arriving in the territory. The US military has also been Airdrop aid to Gaza.

The Biden administration resorted to unusual solutions after months of appealing to Israel, a major recipient of military aid, to step up access and protection for trucks carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza.

The five-month war was triggered after Hamas-led militants swept into southern Israel in a surprise attack, rampaging through communities, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostages.

Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive Military campaigns in recent history. The war has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza Ministry of Health. Around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has fled their homes and a quarter of the population faces hunger.

This story has been corrected to properly attribute a new report that “famine is imminent” in Gaza to the Integrated Food Service Phase Classification. It was previously attributed to the World Food Programme.

AP journalists Chris Megerian and Sagar Meghani contributed reporting.

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