Macron: Any forced transfer from Rafah would be 'war crime'

Kamala Harris doesn’t rule out consequences for Israel if it goes ahead with Rafah op

US vice president: ‘Any type of military operation’ in city would be ‘huge mistake,’ as Palestinians have nowhere to go; Netanyahu: ‘We will enter Rafah, achieve absolute victory’

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the press in Parkland, Florida, March 23, 2024. (Drew Angerer/AFP)
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the press in Parkland, Florida, March 23, 2024. (Drew Angerer/AFP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday did not rule out consequences for Israel if it moves forward with a major ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians are sheltering, over American objections.

Upon first being pressed on ABC’s “This Week” whether there would be consequences if Israel moves into Rafah, Harris responded, “We’re going to take it one step at a time.” After the question was raised a second time, she said, “I am ruling out nothing.”

“We have been clear in multiple conversations and in every way that any major military operation in Rafah would be a huge mistake,” Harris explained.

“I have studied the maps. There’s nowhere for those folks to go. We’re looking at about a million and a half people in Rafah who are there because they were told to go there… so we’ve been very clear that it would be a mistake to move into Rafah with any type of military operation,” the vice president added.

Soon after Harris’s interview was broadcast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that the IDF would indeed enter Rafah, en route to “absolute victory” over Hamas.

The city is Hamas’s last stronghold in Gaza, and the location of its last four battalions, according to Israel, which has vowed to destroy the terror group following its devastating October 7 onslaught, when thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people in Israel and took 253 hostage.

The prospect of tanks and troops storming Rafah worries Washington, which says Israel must have a plan to move Palestinians who have sheltered there since being displaced from elsewhere in the Gaza Strip during the five-month-old war.

Netanyahu has pledged to ensure civilian evacuation and humanitarian aid before an offensive takes place but has yet to publicize details of such plans.

Washington has so far remained unconvinced of the feasibility of an offensive, and has maintained that Israel can achieve its war objectives through more limited operations in the city.

US officials told Politico earlier in the month that President Joe Biden would consider placing conditions on future military aid to Israel if it moves ahead with a Rafah offensive.

Commenting on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent speech calling for early elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu, Harris said Sunday, “I will not speak for Senator Schumer, but we are very clear that that is on the Israeli people to make a decision about when they will have an election and who of course they elect to lead their government.”

Schumer’s remarks were denounced by the premier, coalition ministers and US Republicans, but received backing from Biden and Democratic lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Biden referred to an Israeli operation in Rafah as a “red line,” when pushed during an MSNBC interview. He subsequently backtracked and the White House has since maintained that such talk “is not stated as a declaration of our policy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marks the Jewish holiday of Purim with officers from the Military Police’s Erez Battalion, March 24, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Also on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron had a phone conversation with Netanyahu, telling him that any forced transfer of people from Rafah would constitute “a war crime.”

Macron repeated his opposition to any Israeli military operation on Rafah, while also condemning Israel’s announcement Friday of the seizure of 800 hectares of land in the West Bank for new settlements.

The French premier added that he intends to bring a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire.”

He also urged Israel to immediately open all crossing points into Gaza to allow humanitarian aid into the conclave.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference on the second and last day of the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 22, 2024. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP)

Visiting troops on the occasion of the Purim festival, Netanyahu said Sunday that “absolute evil cannot be defeated by leaving it alone in Rafah.”

“Like in ancient times, like our brothers, we too unite, dream and win. We will enter Rafah and achieve absolute victory. We eliminated Haman, we will also eliminate [Yahya] Sinwar,” he said, equating the villain of the Purim story to Hamas’s leader in Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 32,000 have been killed in the ongoing offensive. The unverified figure does not differentiate between combatants and civilians and is believed to include Palestinians killed by terror groups’ rocket misfires and at least 13,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The war has devastated most areas in Gaza, creating a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis as aid deliveries struggle to supply the coastal enclave’s over two million residents. Indirect talks for a temporary ceasefire that would include the release of hostages are ongoing in Doha, Qatar, with the participation of local, Egyptian and US mediators, but so far have not produced an agreement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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