Blinken: Israeli assault of Rafah would be 'mistake'

International ME Blinken 031924 AP Evelyn Hockstein

After a meeting in Cairo discussing efforts for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an Israeli invasion in Rafah in southern Gaza would be “a mistake.”

“A major military operation in Rafah would be a mistake, something we don’t support,” he said. “And it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas, which is necessary.”

Blinken, on his sixth trip to the Middle East since the war in Gaza began, said there will be an opportunity next week to “share, in detail” the United States’ stance on a Rafah incursion with Israel. President Biden has invited Israeli officials to Washington to discuss alternatives.

Blinken will meet on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his War Cabinet, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu suggested the invasion of Rafah is unavoidable to achieve Israel’s mission of eliminating Hamas, despite U.S. officials warning Israel of the risks the invasion poses.

Rafah is housing millions of Palestinians who fled from other parts of the territory since the start of the war, but is also believed to be a Hamas holdout.

Netanyahu and President Biden spoke on the phone Monday, the first time the two leaders have spoken since Biden said the prime minister was “hurting Israel more than helping.” Biden emphasized his “bone-deep commitment” to Israel but is also ramping up efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

During his State of the Union address, Biden pledged that more aid would be delivered to Palestinians in Gaza, as aid groups warn of a famine. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reports that more than 31,000 Palestinians have died since the start of the Oct. 7 war.

Blinken said the U.S. has a “clear consensus” that there needs to be “an immediate, sustained cease-fire with release of hostages that would create space to surge more humanitarian assistance to relieve the suffering of many people and build something more enduring.”

Yet the U.S. previously vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire, and a watered down version of the resolution backed by the U.S. was vetoed by China and Russia on Friday.

The U.S. is also continuing talks aimed at releasing more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas, after it’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

Blinken said the U.S. has worked with Egypt, Qatar and Israel to “put a strong proposal on the table” that Hamas responded to, and negotiators are continuing to work.

“The gaps are narrowing and we’re continuing to push for an agreement in Doha,” Blinken said. “Still difficult work to get there, but I continue to believe it’s possible.”

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