US, Israel hold talks on plans for Rafah offensive

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US officials have urged Israel not to conduct a large-scale offensive in the Gazan city of Rafah.
US officials have urged Israel not to conduct a large-scale offensive in the Gazan city of Rafah.

Senior US and Israeli officials have held a virtual meeting about Israel’s plans for the southern Gaza city of Rafah as the United States seeks alternatives to an Israeli offensive.

US  and Israeli officials said the meeting is a follow-up to a similar meeting held on April 1. 

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Air Force One that the meeting had begun.

US President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to conduct a large-scale offensive in Rafah to avoid more Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza, where Palestinian health authorities say more than 33,000 people have been killed in Israel’s assault.

Jake Sullivan
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has held talks with Israeli officials. (AP PHOTO)

The meeting comes as Israel considers launching an attack on Iranian targets in response to Iran’s launching of a barrage of drones and ballistic missiles last weekend against Israel.

The US is trying to dissuade Israel from retaliatory strikes to avoid inflaming an already tense situation, a second US official said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was leading the talks from the US side, with participation from Biden’s Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, among others.

Rubble in al-Nusairat
Gazan health authorities say more than 33,000 people have been killed in Israel’s assault. (EPA PHOTO)

Israel’s strategic affairs minister Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi were heading the Israeli delegation in the virtual talks, an Israeli official said. 

The official said topics would include “the operational and humanitarian planning for Rafah”.

Plans for in-person talks on Rafah have been delayed in the aftermath of Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel, the official said.

In Ramallah, the Palestinian government called on US officials to “intervene immediately to stop the ongoing Israeli aggression against our Palestinian people”.

Reuters