Biden warns Netanyahu against Rafah operation without ‘credible’ safety plan

In a call Sunday with Benjamin Netanyahu, Joe Biden told the Israeli prime minister that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah “without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there”.

The call between the US president and Netanyahu was the first between the two leaders since Biden on Thursday used the phrase “over the top” to describe Israel’s military strikes in Gaza in response to the 7 October attack by Hamas.

Related: Netanyahu defies Biden, insisting there’s ‘no space’ for Palestinian state

Biden and officials with the United Nations have warned that an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah, where about 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering, would lead to a “bloodbath”. Israel’s military has appeared determined to move forward with the offensive while it remains unclear where the large number of civilians could be safely moved away from danger.

More than half of Gaza’s population has fled to Rafah, which is near Israel’s border with Egypt. And the UN has said a quarter of that population is facing starvation.

Israel has already been conducting airstrikes in Rafah that have killed and wounded several people. Netanyahu has claimed Israel will be moving forward with the ground campaign in Rafah but has insisted that plans are still being worked on.

A ground operation in Rafah could cut off one of the only routes available for badly needed medical and food supplies to reach civilians in Gaza. The health ministry in Gaza has said more than 28,000 people have been killed there since the 7 October attack by Hamas that killed about 1,200.

Biden’s national security adviser John Kirby has said the US would not be in favor of any assault on Rafah without due consideration of civilians.

That kind of military operation “would be a disaster”, Kirby has said, “and it’s not something that we would support”.

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