US said offering intel on Hamas leaders’ whereabouts if Israel drops major Rafah op

Biden administration reportedly also says it can give information on locations of secret tunnels in Gaza used by terror group as incentive not to enter Gaza's southernmost city

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, in Gaza City, April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Biden administration has reportedly offered to give Israel “sensitive intelligence” on the whereabouts of senior Hamas leaders if it agrees to hold off on a long-promised major military operation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.

The Washington Post quoted four unnamed sources as saying that the United States “is offering Israel valuable assistance if it holds back, including sensitive intelligence to help the Israeli military pinpoint the location of Hamas leaders and find the group’s hidden tunnels.”

The report said that the administration has also offered to help put up large tent encampments for Palestinians evacuated from Rafah, and to assist in building infrastructure to provide humanitarian aid.

A senior administration official familiar with the discussions, also unnamed, was quoted as saying that Israel had provided assurances that Israel Defense Forces troops would not enter Rafah before evacuating about 800,000 of an estimated 1 million Palestinians sheltering there amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Comments from White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby at a Thursday briefing appeared to be in line with the report, though he noted that such intelligence was already being given to Israel.

“We could also, in fact, help them target the leaders, including [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar, which we are, frankly, doing with the Israelis on an ongoing basis,” he said.

Palestinians displaced by the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip walk through a makeshift tent camp in Rafah, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

The Washington Post report came after two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Friday that Sinwar is not hiding in Rafah, citing recent intelligence assessments that placed the Hamas leader in underground tunnels in the Khan Younis area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to launch a major offensive in Rafah for months, arguing that the operation is essential for defeating Hamas, which has four of its remaining six active battalions located in the city.

At the beginning of the week, Israel launched an operation to take over the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing, which it said was being used for terror purposes. The crossing has since been shuttered, with Israel offering no timetable for it will be reopened for the delivery of aid.

The White House on said Friday that the US does not believe the campaign amounts to a wide-scale military operation in the population centers the crowded city of the sort that US President Joe Biden warned would lead him to halt offensive weapons shipments to Israel. He already withheld a shipment of high payload bombs last week amid fears they’d be used in Rafah.

File: This photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces shows a tank with an Israeli flag on it entering the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

Israel’s security cabinet voted on Thursday to approve a measured expansion of the Rafah operation in what is aimed to remain within the scope of what Washington is willing to accept.

The war in Gaza erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, when thousands terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, amid many acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying the terror group’s military and governance capabilities. Health authorities in Gaza say almost 35,000 people have been killed in the ensuing war, though figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, while 267 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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