Biden Administration Monitors Israeli Airstrike in Rafah, Calls for Investigation

Biden Administration Monitors Israeli Airstrike in Rafah, Calls for Investigation

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it is closely monitoring the investigation into a deadly Israeli airstrike it termed as tragic. However, it clarified that the recent deaths in Rafah do not constitute a major ground operation that crosses any U.S. red lines.

“The Israelis have said this is a tragic mistake,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated at the White House when questioned about whether the events over the weekend qualified as the type of “death and destruction” that U.S. officials have warned could result in the withholding of more aid to Israel. Kirby emphasized, “The U.S. doesn’t have ‘a measuring stick here or a quota.'”

Biden Administration Monitors Israeli Airstrike in Rafah, Calls for Investigation

“We’ve also said we don’t want to see a major ground operation in Rafah that would really make it hard for the Israelis to go after Hamas without causing extensive damage and potentially a large number of deaths. We have not seen that yet,” he said, noting that Israel’s operations were mostly in a corridor on the outskirts of Rafah. When asked if the recent ground operations in Rafah would not prompt a U.S. withdrawal of more military aid, Kirby confirmed, “I believe that’s what I’ve been saying here.”

The recent deaths in Rafah have tested President Joe Biden’s promise to withhold weapons from Israel if a major invasion of Rafah put displaced persons at risk. Speaking at a ceremonial event in Washington, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris remarked, “The word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe” an Israeli airstrike on Sunday that triggered a fire in a tent camp in the Gaza city of Rafah, killing 45 Palestinians. Harris’s comment, in response to a reporter’s question, also came after Gaza health authorities reported Israeli tank shelling of a tent camp in an evacuation area west of Rafah, which killed at least 21 people on Tuesday.

Israel stated that “something unfortunately went tragically wrong” in Sunday’s airstrike and denied shelling the tent camp on Tuesday. Israel mentioned that it had targeted two senior Hamas operatives in Sunday’s operation and had not intended to cause civilian casualties. Hamas issued a statement celebrating the martyrdom of two fighters in the Sunday strike, indicating that Israel was targeting Hamas in a “precise way,” according to Kirby. “The Israelis have said they used 37-pound bombs, precision-guided munitions,” Kirby added. “If it is in fact what they used, it is certainly indicative of an effort to be discreet and targeted and precise. Now, obviously this had tragic results, and obviously that needs to be investigated.”

When asked if Israel’s strikes could put Biden in a difficult position, Kirby responded that there is a real danger of Israel becoming further isolated from the international community due to its conduct. “So this is of concern, clearly, because it’s not in Israel’s best interest,” Kirby said. “And it’s not in our best interest for Israel to become increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. administration’s response faced criticism from human rights and Arab American groups. Nihad Awad, executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stated, “Sadly, because of President Biden’s insistence on sending more bombs to enable Netanyahu’s war crimes in Rafah, this is now as much an American genocide as it is an Israeli genocide.” Both Israeli and U.S. officials have condemned the use of the term genocide to describe the events in Gaza.

The State Department expressed deep concern to Israel upon learning about Sunday’s Rafah incident and urged an investigation, which Israel has promised. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller mentioned that Washington will be closely monitoring Israel’s probe, but noted that Israel’s military operations in Rafah have not been as extensive as those in central or northern Gaza. Global leaders have expressed horror at the fire in a designated “humanitarian zone” of Rafah where families displaced by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages.

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Pooja Chauhan

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