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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Israel’s war cabinet approves expansion of Rafah operation

The US has threatened to cut off supplies of offensive weapons if Israel enters population centers in the Gazan city

“measured expansion” of Israel’s operation in the densely populated city of Rafah in southern Gaza was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet on Thursday night, multiple outlets have reported.

The reports come after US President Joe Biden vowed to stop the supply of offensive weapons to Israel if its military goes into the city’s population centers.

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Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tanks and troops entered the eastern part of Rafah in the early hours of Tuesday morning, seizing the border crossing that links Gaza and Egypt, as well as launching airstrikes.

Axios reported on Friday that an “expansion of the area of ​​operation” had been approved, citing three sources with knowledge of the decision. Hebrew media also reported that the IDF was widening its area of operation.

Two of Axios’s sources said the operation does not cross Biden’s stated red line, while a third believed it “could be interpreted by the US” as going too far.

All three said the cabinet had instructed Israeli negotiators to continue efforts to reach a deal to free hostages captured by Hamas in its October 7 cross-border attack on Israel. National Security Minister Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are said to have voted against that decision.

Read more: Biden issues Rafah ultimatum to Israel

Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel was ready to “stand alone” in its war on Gaza after Biden threatened to halt the supply of certain weapons. “If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone,” he said.

According to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Washington has already paused one shipment of weapons to Israel due to concerns over Rafah, which is currently sheltering 1.4 million Palestinians who have fled the northern parts of the enclave that have been bombarded by Israeli strikes since October.

Reuters reported on Friday that Israeli tanks had captured the main road between the eastern and western parts of the city, while Hamas said it had attacked Israeli tanks near a mosque in the east.