Israel offensive on Rafah would not eliminate Hamas: Blinken

AFP , Monday 13 May 2024

An all-out Israeli offensive on the Gaza city of Rafah would provoke "anarchy" without eliminating Hamas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, as Washington stepped up a pressure campaign against such an assault.

File photo- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.AFP


Separately, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized Washington's concerns about an offensive in a call with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi.

"Mr. Sullivan reiterated President Biden's longstanding concerns over the potential for a major military ground operation into Rafah, where over one million people have taken shelter," a White House readout of the phone call said.

It said Hanegbi "confirmed that Israel is taking US concerns into account," but did not elaborate.

Israeli bombardment in the eastern parts of Rafah has already sent 300,000 Gazans fleeing.

The United States and other countries, as well as top UN officials, have warned that a full-out assault on Rafah could have a disastrous impact on the refugees driven there by fighting elsewhere in Gaza, many of them living in desperate conditions.

Blinken, when asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" whether the US concurred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that Israeli forces had killed more civilians than Hamas fighters since the war began, replied simply, "Yes, we do."

Blinken said a full-scale invasion could come "potentially at an incredibly high cost" and that even a massive assault on Rafah was unlikely to end the Hamas threat.

"Israel's on the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left, or if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas," he said.

Blinken also confirmed that the hold President Joe Biden has placed on weapons to Israel -- as the US continues pressing it to better protect civilians and avoid an all-out invasion of Rafah -- is limited to 3,500 "high-capacity" bombs.

He said the United States was continuing to press Israeli leaders to provide a plan for Gaza once the war is finally over, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that "we've been talking to them about a much better way of getting an enduring result."

The US diplomat said Hamas fighters had already returned to certain areas of northern Gaza that Israel had "liberated."

 Death toll tops 35,000 

Blinken also spoke Sunday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, insisting again the United States opposed a major Israel ground operation in Rafah, the State Department said.

"The Secretary underscored the urgent need to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza and urged the Minister to ensure assistance can move into Gaza and help address distribution challenges inside of Gaza as Israel pursues Hamas targets," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Israel struck Gaza on Sunday and battles with fighters broke out in several areas of Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll in the war had exceeded 35,000 people.

More than seven months into the war, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate surge in humanitarian aid."

Asked about a State Department report issued Friday that said Israel likely has violated norms of international law in its use of US weapons, Blinken said there was still too little evidence to warrant ending all military support.

The chaotic and dangerous conditions of an ongoing war, he said, made it "very difficult" to determine exactly what was happening, or what weapons were used, in any specific action.

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