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A man looks on as Palestinians inspect a tent camp damaged in an Israeli strike during an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

Washington: The White House said an Israeli strike on an encampment in Rafah that left dozens dead was devastating but would not cause President Joe Biden to freeze additional arms shipments to the country.

“As a result of this strike on Sunday, I have no policy changes to speak to,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

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The US would be monitoring the investigation into the incident and expected Israel to learn lessons from the airstrike, Kirby said. But Kirby said the bombing — which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “tragic mistake — was short of the large-scale military operation that the US has warned Israel would carry consequences.

“We don’t support, we won’t support, a major ground operation in Rafah, and we’ve again been very consistent on that,” Kirby said. “And the president said that, should that occur, then it might make him have to make different decisions in terms of support. We haven’t seen that happen.”

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The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 45 people, including children, were killed and an additional 249 people were wounded in the strike, prompting condemnation from leaders around the globe. French President Emmanuel Macron and

Israeli officials said they used precise munitions in the operation, which was intended to target senior Hamas leaders. Hamas, which orchestrated the October 7 attack on Israel, is labeled a terror organization by the European Union and US.

The White House noted that Israel’s claimed use of smaller bombs was “certainly indicative of an effort to be discrete and targeted and precise” as Kirby defended the decision not to impose new arms restrictions on Israel.

“We have not seen them smash into Rafah,” Kirby said. “We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground.”

Distress calls

Israel sent tanks on raids into Rafah on Wednesday and predicted its war on Hamas in Gaza would continue all year, after Washington said the Rafah assault did not amount to a major ground operation that would trigger a change in US policy.

Israeli tanks moved into the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, despite an order from the International Court of Justice to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians had taken refuge from bombardment elsewhere.

The World Court said Israel had not explained how it would keep evacuees from Rafah safe and provide food, water and medicine. Its ruling also called on Hamas to release hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7 immediately and unconditionally.

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Palestinians mourn over relatives killed in Israel attacks. Image Credit: AFP

Rafah residents said Israeli tanks had pushed into Tel Al Sultan in the west and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating towards a buffer zone on the border with Egypt, rather than staying put as they have in other offensives.

“We received distress calls from residents in Tel Al Sultan where drones targeted displaced citizens as they moved from areas where they were staying toward the safe areas,” the deputy director of ambulance and emergency services in Rafah, Haitham Al Hams, said.

Palestinian health officials said 19 civilians had been killed in Israeli air strikes and shelling across Gaza. Israel accuses Hamas militants of hiding among civilians, which the militants deny.

Health Minister Majed Abu Raman urged Washington to pressure Israel to open the Rafah crossing to aid, saying there was no indication that Israeli authorities would do so soon and that patients in besieged Gaza were dying for lack of treatment.

The Israeli military controls three quarters of the buffer zone on the Egyptian border and aims to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling in weapons, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said.

Fighting in Gaza would continue throughout 2024 at least, he added, signalling that Israel was not ready to end the war as demanded by Hamas, as part of a deal that would see the exchange of hostages it holds for Palestinian prisoners.

“The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war,” he said, reiterating that the aim was to end Hamas rule in Gaza and stop it and its allies attacking Israel.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major ground offensive in Rafah on Tuesday while saying it did not believe such an operation was under way.

Ceasefire negotiations struggle on

Mediator Qatar was expected to give Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Hamas on Tuesday, a person familiar with the issue said. There was no immediate word on Wednesday from Hamas, which has said talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive on Rafah.

The armed wing of Hamas and that of allies Islamic Jihad said they confronted invading forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and blew up explosive devices they had planted, resulting in numerous successful hits.

The Israeli military said three Israeli soldiers were killed and three others badly wounded. Public broadcaster Kan radio said an explosive device had been set off in a Rafah building.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire and stores of aid were set ablaze in eastern Rafah, where residents said Israeli bombardment had destroyed many homes in an area Israel has ordered evacuated.

Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both east and west as Israel attacked, the pro-Hamas Shehab news agency, residents and other journalists said. The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports.

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People fleeing Rafah. Image Credit: AFP

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive, the enclave’s health ministry said.

Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Malnutrition is widespread as aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle. In a new blow, an aid pier put in place by the US military off the coast was out of operation after part of it broke off, probably due to bad weather, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

US tells UN: Israel undermines goals with civilian harm

Israel must do more to protect innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and more must be done to ensure humanitarian aid gets into the enclave and can be safely distributed, said deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood on Wednesday.

“The continued pattern of significant civilian harm resulting from incidents like Sunday’s air strikes undermines Israel’s strategic goals in Gaza,” Wood told the U.N. Security Council.

World Central Kitchen stops work in Rafah

The World Central Kitchen nonprofit, which provides meals in war-torn Gaza, said it had stopped its operations in the Palestinian territory’s southern city of Rafah due to “ongoing attacks” in the area.

The US-based charity was founded by celebrity Spanish-American chef Jose Andres to provide food to communities facing humanitarian crises and disasters.

“In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again,” the charity said on social media platform X late on Tuesday.

“Ongoing attacks have forced us to pause work at our main kitchen in Rafah and relocate many of our community kitchens further north.”

The charity had recently resumed its work in Gaza after suspending operations in April following the killing of seven of its workers in three air strikes by an Israeli drone.

The deaths - of an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole - had triggered a global outrage over Israel’s military operations.

An internal Israeli military inquiry found that the drone team had made an “operational misjudgement” after spotting a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of an aid truck.