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Israel to send officials to Washington to hear US concerns on Rafah operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Monday to send senior officials to Washington, D.C., in the coming days to discuss potential military plans in Rafah as U.S. officials warn a major operation there would be a mistake.

President Biden spoke with Netanyahu over the phone on Monday for the first time in weeks amid simmering tensions over Israel’s handling of its war with Hamas. The conversation included a lengthy discussion about Israel’s plans for Rafah, a city in Gaza that shares a border with Egypt and that is housing millions of people who sought refuge there after the start of the war.

“The president explained why he is so deeply concerned about the prospect of Israel conducting major military operations in Rafah,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters, citing the significant number of refugees in the area and concerns from Egypt about a military operation.

“The president has rejected and did again today the straw man that raising questions about Rafah is the same as raising questions about Hamas,” Sullivan said.

“That’s just nonsense,” he added. “Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else. But a major ground operation there would be a mistake.”

Netanyahu agreed to send a team of senior officials to Washington in the coming days “to hear U.S. concerns about Israel’s current Rafah planning, and to lay out an alternative approach that would target key Hamas elements in Rafah without a major ground invasion,” Sullivan said.

Biden has sought to balance his frustrations with Netanyahu with his administration’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza. The president has repeatedly asserted Israel has a right to defend itself after Hamas’s attacks last October, while simultaneously urging Israel to do more to protect civilians and allow aid into Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have been killed in fighting.

“What’s happening is he has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas,” Biden told MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart earlier this month. “But he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

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