People sitting on and above vehicles as they sit in traffic in Gaza

Palestinians move in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 31, 2024, following an Israeli bombardment of the city.

(Photo: Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

'Certainly Crossed': Israel Pummels Rafah as Dems Aim to Hold Biden to 'Red Line'

Biden "was worried about tanks going into the city, that has already happened," Rep. Pramila Jayapal said. "He was worried about strikes on dense areas, that has already happened."

Israeli forces moved into central Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip by Friday as Democrats urged U.S. President Joe Biden to uphold his promise to halt some weapons shipments to Israel if it invaded the city.

Israeli commandos, backed by tanks and artillery, occupied central Rafah after taking control of the Philadelphi Corridor, an 8-mile border zone between Gaza and Egypt. Satellite imagery showed that Israeli tanks and military vehicles could be seen in central and western Rafah, The New York Timesreported.

The Israeli entry into central Rafah follows a week of airstrikes in the area that have killed many dozens of Palestinian civilians, prompting international outcry. It's also led to a dire shortage of food and medical supplies as humanitarian corridors close and relief groups leave the city, which had been a refuge for displaced Palestinians throughout much of the war.

Progressives responded by declaring that Biden's "red line" on Rafah has been definitively crossed and demanding an end to military support for Israel.

"It absolutely has crossed the red line, perhaps even before this," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, toldThe Hill on Friday. "I am frustrated by the reluctance to hold Netanyahu accountable... And I see this as dragging the United States into Netanyahu's war."

"[Biden] was worried about people being displaced; that has already happened, a million people have already been displaced," Jayapal added. "He was worried about tanks going into the city, that has already happened. He was worried about strikes on dense areas, that [has] already happened."

"So I really don't know what the red line is anymore because it feels fairly clear that this has certainly crossed the red line, and anything more than this would be a complete devastation of people, and at that point, it's too late," she added.

Other progressives, including members of the left-wing "Squad" in the U.S. House of Representatives, took similarly strong positions this week as news from the massacres in Rafah came in.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on social media on Monday that the Israel's tent massacre the previous night already represented "open defiance" of Biden's red line.

"How many children have to die?," Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) wrote on social media Tuesday. "We're past the red line. It's time to stop sending military aid to Israel. Not one more dime."

Members of the Squad were not the only Democrats to voice their frustration.

"All the things that President Biden was worried about have come to pass," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Wednesday in an interview with CNN. "The United States needs to get a full and clear commitment from the Netanyahu government on their plans going forward before we continue to shovel more offensive military assistance to the Netanyahu government."

"The United States can no longer just be a blank check for the Netanyahu government," Van Hollen added.

By invoking the "red line," Democrats refer to a May 9 interview in which Biden vowed to halt shipments of offensive weapons to Israel if its military undertook a major invasion of heavily populated areas of Rafah.

"I made it clear that if they go into Rafah—they haven't gone in Rafah yet—if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities—that deal with that problem," Biden toldCNN in the interview.

The Biden administration maintains that the red line hasn't yet been crossed because Israel has not engaged in a "major ground operation" in Rafah, as a spokesperson explained on Tuesday.

That assessment angered humanitarian groups, as it followed two massacres of Palestinian civilians in the Rafah area within 48 hours. On Sunday night, an Israeli strike on a humanitarian safe zone killed at least 45, mostly women and children. U.S.-made bombs were used in the attack, later analysis revealed. On Tuesday, a strike on a refugee camp killed 21, mostly women. The Israeli strikes have led to an international outcry, with demonstrators throughout the world calling for an end to the Rafah invasion.

The invasion has also caused aid groups such as the World Central Kitchen to pause operations in Rafah, furthering the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Nicolas de Riviere, France's ambassador to the U.N., said his country was "extremely concerned" and called for an end to the Rafah invasion and a clear humanitarian corridor.

"We want a ceasefire," he toldAl Jazeera. "We want no operation in Rafah. We want full humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip. It’s not the case now."

The death count in Gaza continues to mount. In the last 24 hours, 60 Palestinians have died, and more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began in October, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Israel's latest military activity in the Gaza Strip has not been limited to the south. Israeli forces announced Friday that they'd ended a three-week campaign in the city of Jabalia in northern Gaza, site of a major refugee camp. They left "a trail of devastation and destruction," according toAl Jazeera, as they did following an October campaign in Jabalia.

A Jabalia resident who returned home following this most recent Israeli campaign said he could not even locate his house."I did not know where my house was or where its borders were," Abdul Hadi Rayan, 42, toldThe Washington Post. "The area has no house suitable for living at all."

"Even if I decide to return to the camp and live in a tent, all the infrastructure, all the streets and water lines are destroyed," he added. "There is absolutely no place for life here now."

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Friday said it had "horrific reports" from Jabalia, including tents full of people being set on fire at a school where they were sheltering. UNRWA, whose commissioner called on Thursday for an end to Israeli violence against the agency in a guest essay in The New York Times, has been a lifesaving force in Gaza during the war but has been cited as a terrorist organization by Israel; the Knesset is considering a formal designation of UNRWA as such.

Progressives argued that U.S. complicity in Israeli's military actions would come at great cost.

"We have to recognize that if we continue down this course of supporting Netanyahu with zero conditions, and despite the fact that he's doing things that we have said we won't tolerate, we lose not only credibility with the international community, but we're just continuing to lose credibility here at home about what values we actually stand for," Jayapal told The Hill.

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