Israel Gaza: Rafah offensive not a major operation, US says

The US does not believe Israel has launched a full-scale invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, White House spokesman John Kirby said.

He spoke hours after Israeli forces reached the center of the city and reportedly captured a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Mr. Kirby also responded to questions about an Israeli airstrike and resulting fire on Sunday that killed at least 45 Palestinians in a tent camp for displaced people.

Israel says it believes the fire could have been caused by the explosion of weapons Hamas had stockpiled.

Kirby told reporters that the images of Sunday’s strike, which killed mostly women, children and the elderly, were “heartbreaking” and “horrific.”

“No innocent lives should be lost here as a result of this conflict,” he added.

But he acknowledged that Israel was investigating the incident and said he had “no policy changes to discuss” after the recent events in Rafah.

“We still don’t believe a major ground operation is warranted… and we haven’t seen that yet,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described Sunday’s strike as a “tragic accident” as he vowed to continue the Rafah operation.

But the Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons Hamas had stored near the attack, which killed two senior Hamas officials.

US President Joe Biden has made clear that a full-scale Israeli offensive in Rafah would cross a red line, saying earlier this month that some weapons deliveries to Israel would be halted in the event of a major ground operation in the city.

The Israeli army said on Tuesday that its forces were continuing their activities against “terrorist targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Witnesses said Israeli tanks were stationed at the al-Awda roundabout, considered a major landmark.

Western parts of the city were heavily bombed from Monday to Tuesday, residents said.

The Israeli military on Tuesday denied reports that tank shells hit another tent camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people, according to local officials.

Videos of the incident posted to social media and analyzed by BBC Verify show several people with serious injuries.

There was no obvious sign of an explosion zone or crater, making it impossible to determine the cause of the incident. The location – verified from surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and is south of the Israeli military’s designated humanitarian zone.

Israel has insisted that victory in the seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without capturing Rafah, dismissing warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

According to the UN, about a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand people could still take shelter there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in eastern Rafah on May 6.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually entered built-up eastern and central areas, while also moving north along the 13-kilometer border with Egypt.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people and took 252 others hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

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