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Updated Mar 18, 2024, 2:52pm EDT
politics

Israeli PM to send team to Washington to discuss Rafah plan

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 18, 2023.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday agreed to send a team to Washington D.C. to discuss the looming Rafah invasion, the White House said. The agreement came during a call between Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden, whose relationship has grown increasingly tense over the Israel-Hamas war.

In a briefing after the call, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated Biden’s stance that a major ground operation into Gaza’s southernmost city would be “a mistake.”

Biden asked Netanyahu to send a team to Washington “in the coming days” to “hear U.S. concerns about Israel’s current Rafah planning and lay out an alternative approach,” Sullivan said.

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“The president didn’t make threats,” Sullivan said, “just reiterated that he’s for the defeat of Hamas, but also believes that the strategy to defeat Hamas should not put thousands of innocent lives at risk.”

The conversation came after Israel launched an overnight raid on Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, and as experts predicted that a famine was ‘imminent’ in the northern part of the territory.

Since the leaders’ last phone call in February, Biden has been increasingly outspoken about his concerns with Netanyahu’s handling of Israel’s war on Hamas, particularly the number of civilian casualties that the war has wrought.

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Biden said in a recent interview that Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah could not be executed without a credible plan to protect Palestinian civilians. Though the president said such an invasion represented a “red line” for him, he also said he would never entirely cut Israel off. “There’s no red line where I would cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them,” he said.

Just days before the conversation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — the highest-ranking Jewish U.S. official — said Netanyahu had “lost his way” and called for Israel to hold new elections. Biden said Schumer gave a “good speech” and “expressed a serious concern shared not only by him but by many Americans,” while Netanyahu called the senator’s remarks “totally inappropriate.”

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