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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Israeli strike that killed dozens of Palestinians in southern Gaza Strip didn't cross Biden ‘red lines’: US

The bloodshed came after Biden warned earlier this month that the US would block certain arms transfers if Israel targeted heavily populated areas in Rafah — a warning that has been tested regularly as the war has ground on

Zolan Kanno-Youngs Washington Published 30.05.24, 09:47 AM
Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. AP/PTI

US officials said on Tuesday that the Israeli strike that killed dozens of Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip was a tragedy but that it did not violate President Joe Biden’s red line for withholding weapons shipments to Israel.

The bloodshed came after Biden warned earlier this month that the US would block certain arms transfers if Israel targeted heavily populated areas in Rafah — a warning that has been tested regularly as the war has ground on.

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John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, said the deaths were “devastating” but that the scale of the attack was not enough to change US policy. “We don’t want to see a major ground operation,” Kirby told reporters. “We haven’t seen that.” Israeli tanks were on the outskirts of the city “to try to put pressure on Hamas”, Kirby said. He also offered a measure of specificity about Biden’s warning to Israel, which critics have said was too vague.

“We have not seen them go in with large units and large numbers of troops in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated manoeuvre against multiple targets on the ground,” Kirby said. “Everything that we can see tells us that they are not moving in in a major ground operation in population centres in the city of Rafah.”

Biden has faced pressure from advocates and members of his own party to use his power to curtail arms to Israel as a way to influence its conduct in the war. The US is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to Israel, which raises questions about American responsibility.

The strike in Rafah on Sunday ignited a deadly fire and killed at least 45 people, including children, and wounded 249, according to the Gaza health ministry. It has prompted international outrage, including from leaders in the EU, the UN, Egypt and China.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, asked about Rafah on Tuesday, said: “The word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe” the deaths. She did not answer a follow-up question about whether the strike crossed a red line for Biden.

Still, the Israeli military’s conduct was similar to what Biden said he would not tolerate when he warned, in an interview on CNN earlier this month, that the US would not supply Israel with weapons to attack Rafah.

“I have made it clear to Bibi and the war Cabinet they’re not going to get our support if, in fact, they’re going into these population centers,” Biden said in the interview.

In that interview, Biden emphasised that the US would still ensure Israel’s security, citing the Iron Dome missile defence system.

New York Times News Service

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