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The US has warned Israel that staging a military offensive into Gaza’s southern city of Rafah without proper planning would be a “disaster”.
The White House said it would not support plans for any major operations in Rafah without due consideration for the refugees there.
The comments come a day after Israel’s leader said the military had been told to prepare to operate in Rafah.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled there to escape fighting.
“Israeli military has a special obligation as they conduct operations there or anywhere else to make sure that they’re factoring in protection for innocent civilian life,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said of Thursday,
“Military operations right now would be a disaster for those people and it’s not something that we would support.”
Mr Kirby added that the US had not seen anything to suggest Israel was going to launch a major operation in Rafah imminently.
Deputy State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel echoed Mr Kirby’s comments, saying: ”We [the US] would not support the undertaking of something like this without serious and credible planning as it relates to the more than a million people who are sheltering there, as well as without considering the impacts on humanitarian assistance and the safe departure of foreign nationals,” he told reporters.
Asked by the BBC where refugees in Rafah should go in the event of such an operation, Mr Patel said these were “legitimate questions that we believe the Israelis should answer”.
“It’s not for us to be prescriptive about these things but what you exactly raise is why it’s important to make sure these operations are fully thought out, especially in an area where there are more than a million people sheltering.”
It is rare for the US, a key ally and military backer of Israel, to talk about any forthcoming stages of the country’s military offensive in Gaza – but this was a clear warning.
Washington sends around $3.8bn (£3bn) in military aid to Israel each year, making the country the world’s biggest recipient of such funding.
Around 1,300 people were killed during the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on 7 October last year, according to Israeli officials.
More than 27,800 Palestinians have been killed and at least 67,000 injured by the war launched by Israel in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
No part of Gaza has been spared from Israel’s offensive so far but Rafah, on the border with Egypt, now hosts up to 1.5 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population – surviving in dire humanitarian conditions.
“They are living in overcrowded makeshift shelters, in unsanitary conditions, without running water, electricity and adequate food supplies,” was the stark assessment of the situation by UN chief António Guterres on Thursday.
“We were clear in condemning the horrific acts of Hamas. We are also clear in condemning the violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza.”