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US says not changing Israel policy despite ‘horrific’ Rafah strike

US says not changing Israel policy despite ‘horrific’ Rafah strike
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic mishap” was made in carrying out the air strike, adding to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war in Gaza, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths.


Netanyahu acknowledges ‘tragic mistake’ after air strike kills dozens at Rafah tent camp

Netanyahu acknowledges ‘tragic mistake’ after air strike kills dozens at Rafah tent camp

Biden and his top advisers have repeatedly warned the Israelis against carrying out wide-scale operations in Rafah without a plan to secure the safety of innocent civilians. But the administration made clear that it would not move – at least not immediately – to curtail any support for Israel as a result of the strike.

But other global leaders were sharper in their condemnation.

President Emmanuel Macron used social media to say that “these operations must stop”. Germany’s foreign ministry called the images of the strike “unbearable” and said the “civilian population must finally be better protected”.

And Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the Rafah strike could “complicate” talks.

China meanwhile voiced “its grave concern over the ongoing Israeli military operations in Rafah”.

The incident came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month. Tens of thousands of people remain in the area, while many others have fled.

Kirby said Biden was “not making decisions based on popularity or public opinion polls here or around the world”, but acknowledged it was not in the US interest or “our Israeli partner’s interest for them to become further isolated” on the world stage.

He called the loss of life “heartbreaking” and “horrific”, and said “we certainly condemn the loss of life here”.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby. Photo: Bloomberg

He added that the US was monitoring the results of an Israeli investigation into the strike, which suggested the civilian deaths were the result of a secondary explosion after a successful strike on two Hamas operatives.

“We understand that this strike did kill two senior Hamas heads who are directly responsible for attacks,” Kirby said. “We’ve also said many times Israel must take every precaution possible to do more to protect innocent life.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that Israel’s weeks-old offensive in Rafah was still on a “far different” scale than the assaults Israeli forces waged on other cities in Gaza earlier in the seven-month war against Hamas.

The US had urged Israel not to replicate those earlier attacks in Rafah, given the vulnerable civilians crowded there.

Miller said he had no direct knowledge of reported accounts from witnesses on the ground Tuesday that Israeli tanks had entered the centre of Gaza, and noted Israel had denied responsibility for a new Israeli strike outside Rafah on Tuesday that Gaza health officials said killed more than 20 people.

Asked whether the strike would result in any US policy changes, Kirby said: “I have no policy changes to speak to”.

Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said she did not know whether it was a US-provided weapon that was used in the deadly Sunday strike that killed the dozens of civilians at a displacement camp. “I do not know what type of ammunition was used in that air strike,” Singh said. “I have to refer you to the Israelis to speak to that.”

The Israelis have said they used small-diameter precision munitions in the attack and have suggested that a secondary explosion caused the number of civilian deaths. Singh said the US has not paused shipments to Israel in the wake of the strike. “Security assistance continues to flow,” Singh said.

Still, Kirby said the incident reflected the challenge of conducting military operations in densely populated areas like Rafah, a concern that Biden and his top advisers have repeatedly raised with the Israelis.

“There’s going to be an investigation. They’ve already said it was a tragic mistake,” he added. “They’re looking into it. They have been able to investigate themselves and hold people accountable in the past. We’ll see what they do here.”

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