"More than half of Gaza’s population—well over 1 million people—are crammed in Rafah, staring death in the face," said the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator.
President Joe Biden and other leading American officials have publicly urged Israel not to invade the overcrowded Gaza city of Rafah without ensuring the protection of civilians, but the administration reportedly has no plan to impose consequences if the Netanyahu government launches the ground assault without heeding U.S. warnings.
Three unnamed U.S. officials toldPolitico's "National Security Daily" newsletter on Tuesday that "no reprimand plans are in the works, meaning Israeli forces could enter the city and harm civilians without facing American consequences."
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in response to Politico's reporting that "Biden can stop this but chooses not to."
"Instead, he only resorts to calling Netanyahu an 'asshole' behind his back," Parsi added. "This is leadership?"
Around 1.4 million people, most of them displaced from other parts of the Gaza Strip, are currently in Rafah, which is roughly a quarter the size of the U.S. city of Baltimore.
desperately trying to flee ahead of an Israeli invasion, gathering their few remaining belongings and leaving the city without any clear direction or assurance of safe passage.
"They need to be protected," Biden said of Rafah's civilians following a White House meeting with the king of Jordan on Monday.
But that same day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing that "we are going to continue to support Israel" after a reporter asked whether Biden has "ever threatened to strip military assistance from Israel if they move ahead with a Rafah operation" that doesn't protect civilians.
"They have a right to defend themselves against Hamas. And we're going to continue to make sure they have the tools and the capabilities to do that," Kirby said, sidestepping growing evidence that U.S. weapons are fueling the Israeli military's war crimes in Gaza.
REPORTER: "Has the President ever threatened to strip military assistance from Israel if they move ahead with a Rafah operation that does not take into consequence what happens with civilians?"
WHITE HOUSE: "We’re going to continue to support Israel."
"They have a right to… pic.twitter.com/tMCVUQ2IZc
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) February 13, 2024
Israel's military has ramped up attacks on Rafah in recent days, killing dozens of Palestinians—including an entire family—in a wave of airstrikes on the besieged city earlier this week. The strikes leveled buildings, wiped out makeshift tents that displaced people have been using for shelter, and killed at least 27 children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a ground invasion of Rafah will go ahead despite the Biden administration's pleading and growing protests from the international community. On Tuesday, the South African government implored the International Court of Justice to intervene to prevent an invasion of Rafah, arguing such an assault would violate the legally binding orders the court issued in its interim decision last month.
"We're going to do it," Netanyahu said in an interview that aired over the weekend. "We're going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion."
Meanwhile, the White House is actively pressuring the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a $95 billion aid package that includes more than $10 billion in offensive military assistance for Israel. The bill passed the Senate Tuesday morning with just three no votes from members of the Democratic caucus, but progressive opposition is likely to be stronger in the House.
"This is not the time for vague generalities about doing more to protect civilian life. We must demand of Netanyahu—STOP," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wrote on social media Tuesday, noting that a majority of House Democrats voted against a standalone $17.6 billion aid package for Israel last week.
"The bombing in Rafah that is killing children refugees must end today," Khanna added.
Martin Griffiths, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, echoed that message in a statement on Tuesday, warning that "the scenario we have long dreaded is unraveling at alarming speed."
"More than half of Gaza’s population—well over 1 million people—are crammed in Rafah, staring death in the face: They have little to eat, hardly any access to medical care, nowhere to sleep, nowhere safe to go," said Griffiths. "Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza. They could also leave an already fragile humanitarian operation at death's door."
"We lack the safety guarantees, the aid supplies, and the staff capacity to keep this operation afloat," he continued. "The international community has been warning against the dangerous consequences of any ground invasion in Rafah. The government of Israel cannot continue to ignore these calls. History will not be kind. This war must end."