Israel must ensure safety of civilians in Rafah before moving in, says top Biden aide

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan details the multi-faceted plan that the Biden administration wants Israel to implement before launching its final-stand operation against Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Asked about the issue at a White House press conference, Sullivan says the plan must address how Israel will ensure the safety of the over one million Palestinians currently sheltering in Rafah.

The plan will also have to ensure that humanitarian aid is able to be delivered to Gazans, given that operating in Rafah would likely force the shuttering of the Egyptian crossing on that border, Sullivan said.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed for the opening of the Erez Crossing in northern Gaza, and Biden pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a call earlier this week to stop far-right Israelis from blocking aid from entering the Kerem Shalom Crossing, according to a US official.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the police, has reportedly been allowing those protests to continue for weeks, in violation of US commitments to Israel.

“We need answers to the question not only where do people go but how do they get a sustained level of aid, food, medicine, water and shelter,” Sullivan says.

The top Biden aide references Egypt’s concerns that an operation in Rafah could lead the Palestinians sheltering there to flood the border, amplifying fears in Cairo that Israel is seeking a mass displacement of Gazans into Egypt.

“There needs to be a clear answer to that [concern] as well,” Sullivan says.

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