May 10, 2024 - World

Israeli war cabinet votes to expand Rafah operation area, amid growing U.S. concerns

Smoke rises above building at sunrise, in the aftermath of Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 10, 2024,

Smoke rises above a building at sunrise in the aftermath of Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 10, 2024. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Amid growing U.S. concerns about the humanitarian situation in Rafah, the Israeli security cabinet approved last night the "expansion of the area of ​​operation" of the Israel Defense Forces in the southern Gaza city, according to three sources with knowledge of the details.

The big picture: President Biden said this week that if Israel invades Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, the U.S. will stop supplying it with artillery shells, bombs for fighter jets and other offensive weapons.

The latest: Two sources said this is a "measured expansion" that does not cross Biden's "red line."

  • The third source said the approved expansion includes actions that could be interpreted by the U.S. as crossing Biden's red line. Israel claims Rafah is a last holdout for Hamas militants.
  • The three sources said the cabinet also instructed the Israeli team negotiating indirect talks for a hostage and ceasefire deal to continue efforts to reach a deal and try to formulate a new initiative that would lead to a breakthrough.
  • The sources said ultranationalist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich voted against the decision. The two have pushed for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to suspend negotiations and invade Rafah.

State of play: The Israeli cabinet decision comes as concern grows in the Biden administration about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Rafah area since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing earlier this week, two U.S. officials said.

  • The officials said Israel didn't coordinate the capturing of the crossing well enough with the Egyptians who got "extremely upset."
  • As a result, the Egyptians refused to send aid trucks, including fuel trucks, through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, the officials said.
  • The Biden administration is now pressing the Israelis to reopen the Rafah crossing and urging the Egyptians to send trucks through Kerem Shalom in the meantime, the officials said.

But the security situation around Kerem Shalom is unstable and the United Nations is having difficulties sending its trucks to pick up aid at the crossing.

  • One of the main shortages in Gaza is fuel — almost none has entered Gaza since May 7, according to one U.S. official.
  • The UN tried buying fuel from Israel and getting it to Gaza through Kerem Shalom after the Rafah crossing was shut down, but the Israelis rejected the request because the only UN entity that had money for the fuel was UNRWA, a U.S. official said. Israeli leaders have accused UNRWA staff of having ties to Hamas, but a report issued last month found Israel hadn't yet provided supporting evidence to its claim.
  • It took the UN time to find another agency to buy the fuel.

What they're saying: "We are in a week with a significant decrease in the aid that is going in," one U.S. official said.

  • "This is precisely the kind of thing we warned the Israelis against. It's a microcosm of everything the Israelis have done for the past seven months, which is why we don't trust them at all to do Rafah right."
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