Israel scales back Rafah offensive – media

West Jerusalem has reportedly revised its military plans in Gaza to appease US officials

Israeli officials have reportedly dropped plans for a major ground offensive in Rafah and instead will placate US President Joe Biden’s administration by limiting operations to strikes designed to eradicate Gaza’s last Hamas stronghold, without escalating a humanitarian crisis.

“It’s fair to say, I think, the Israelis have updated their plans,” a senior US official told reporters on Tuesday. “They’ve incorporated many of the concerns that we have expressed.” The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity following Sunday’s visit to Israel by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Biden has repeatedly warned against a large-scale assault on Rafah, where more than 1 million Gazans took refuge after their neighborhoods were leveled by Israeli bombardments of the Palestinian enclave.  The US president threatened earlier this month to halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel if the Rafah invasion went forward as planned.

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Sullivan’s talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were apparently fruitful. “This is an ongoing discussion, ongoing conversation,” the US official said. “It’s been constructive.”

Netanyahu has vowed to push forward with efforts to destroy Hamas, regardless of US pressure and international outcry over civilian casualties in Gaza. He argued in March that Israel couldn’t win the war without eliminating the Hamas battalions in Rafah.

Netanyahu also has claimed that Israeli forces have already wiped out 19 of 24 Hamas battalions in Gaza. However, US officials told Politico that only about one-third of Hamas fighters have been killed since the war began in October, and around 65% of the militant group’s tunnels remain intact. Hamas also has recruited thousands of new members amid the fighting with Israel

More than 800,000 Palestinian refugees have fled Rafah, near Gaza’s border with Egypt, since Israeli forces began launching targeted raids in the city earlier this month, according to a UN estimate. The Israel Defense Forces issued evacuation orders for parts of Rafah, forcing civilians to flee to rubble-strewn areas that were previously bombed.

READ MORE: Biden fears ‘huge Jewish influence’ – White House aide

Asked whether Israel’s revised plans would resolve the issues raised by Biden, the US official said West Jerusalem was on the right track. “I have to say after coming out of Israel these past couple of days . . ., it is pretty clear that the Israelis are taking those concerns seriously.”

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, according to local health authorities. An International Criminal Court prosecutor called this week for the arrests of Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on war crimes charges.

READ MORE: ‘We’re next!’ US senators warn about ICC



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