Biden’s top ME advisor to visit Cairo, Tel Aviv for talks on possible Israeli ground assault on Rafah

Amr Kandil , Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, will visit Egypt and Israel this week to hold talks on the possible Israeli assault in Rafah city in southern Gaza, Axios reported on Tuesday.

Brett McGurk
File Photo: Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. AFP


McGurk’s discussions will also tackle efforts to release the captives in Gaza amid the ongoing war, reported the news site, citing three Israeli and US officials as saying.

The officials expect McGurk to meet with Head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) Abbas Kamel and other Egyptian officials in Cairo on Wednesday, Axios said.

He will then head to Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and other Israeli officials on Thursday.

On Monday, a delegation of US House of Representatives members, headed by Rep. Adam Smith, Democratic leader of the House Armed Services Committee, met with Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Defence Mohamed Zaki in Cairo to discuss the war in Gaza.

During the meeting, Shoukry reaffirmed Egypt’s rejection of a potential military operation in Rafah as well as any actions seeking to displace Palestinians from Gaza.

The reports on McGurk's visit to Egypt and Israel come as the US plans to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC) aiming to head off Israeli plans to carry out a military ground operation in the densely-populated Rafah city on the Egyptian border.

In the draft resolution, seen by Reuters and Bloomberg, the US calls for a temporary ceasefire and warns that a Rafah assault would “result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighbouring countries.”

Egyptian officials have stressed that Cairo considers any forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel from Gaza a "war crime."

US President Joe Biden warned against the premature execution of the Rafah operation in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday.

Biden said such an operation “should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.”

Ceasefire efforts continue

Meanwhile, the US plans to veto an Arab-backed resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza at the UN Security Council today to give more time for the ongoing negotiations between Egypt, Qatar, the US, and Israel to reach a ceasefire.

The Algerian draft resolution urges Israel and Hamas to comply with international law and rejects the forced displacement of Palestinians, according to the Associated Press.

Top negotiators from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and Israel failed to reach a ceasefire deal in the Gaza war in one-day talks in Cairo last Tuesday.

The talks involved Egyptian intelligence officials, CIA Director William Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and an Israeli delegation led by Mossad head David Barnea, and Director of the Israeli Security Agency (Shabak) Ronen Bar.

Additionally, Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, heading a delegation from the movement to hold talks with Egyptian officials on ongoing efforts to stop the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Al-Thani said on Saturday that the talks between the four sides will continue despite being “not very promising” over the last few days.

The negotiations aim to achieve a ceasefire in the strip at least for six weeks and facilitate a prisoner swap deal, especially amid Israeli threats to launch the Rafah assault.

Al-Thani told the Munich Security Conference that a ceasefire deal should not be conditioned by a captive release deal, saying that this dilemma has been “misused by a lot of countries.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s war cabinet minister Benny Gantz warned that Israel will carry out the Rafah operation if captives are not returned by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts this year on 11 March.

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