Netanyahu approves plans for Israeli military operation in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for a military operation in Rafah, his office said Friday. The statement did not provide additional details about the offensive, which is opposed by several world leaders and humanitarian organizations, who say it could be devastating for the more than 1.4 million Palestinians estimated to be seeking refuge in the city.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Vienna on Friday that the Biden administration has not seen a plan from Israel detailing how it would protect civilians if the military moves into the densely populated city. President Biden warned earlier this month that an Israeli invasion of Rafah would cross a “red line,” though he said, “I’m never going to leave Israel.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a news conference the same day that the United States cannot support an offensive in Rafah that “doesn’t also include a credible, achievable, executable plan to take care for the safety and security” of Gazans there — and an operation without such a plan would “be a disaster.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said Thursday that the Israeli military intends to direct a “significant” portion of Rafah’s population toward “humanitarian islands” in central Gaza that would be created with the “international community.”

Israel also said Friday that it will send a delegation to Qatar to continue negotiations for the release of Hamas-held hostages in exchange for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners. The move comes on the heels of the latest cease-fire proposal put forward by Hamas, which Israel has accused of making “unrealistic demands.”

Kirby said Friday that the Hamas proposal was “in broad brushstrokes, within the bounds of the deal that we’ve been working on now for several months.”

Here’s what else to know

President Biden praised a recent speech by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that criticized Netanyahu’s government and called for Israel to hold a new election. Biden described it as “a good speech” that “expressed a serious concern shared not only by [Schumer] but by many Americans.” Israeli officials criticized Schumer’s remarks, with Israel’s ambassador to the United States calling it “counterproductive to our common goals.”

A second aid vessel is preparing to set sail from Cyprus to Gaza with “hundreds more tons of food,” World Central Kitchen said Friday on social media. A first ship co-organized by the U.S. nonprofit organization — founded by celebrity chef José Andrésarrived earlier that day by way of a new maritime corridor meant to increase aid to the region, which is on the brink of famine. One in three children under the age of 2 in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition, a significant increase from January, according to UNICEF.

At least 20 people were killed and more than 150 injured late Thursday while awaiting aid in northern Gaza, in what Palestinian officials in the enclave said was an Israeli attack. Witnesses interviewed by The Washington Post said they saw an Israeli helicopter and drones randomly firing on Palestinians who had gathered to receive aid. The Israeli military denied responsibility for the killings.

At least 31,490 people have been killed and 73,439 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 249 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

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