U.N. chief to visit Egypt’s border with Gaza as Netanyahu vows Rafah invasion

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is set to visit Egypt’s border with Gaza on Saturday, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to send forces into the packed city of Rafah near the border, despite warnings from U.S. and world leaders.

The U.N. chief landed in Egypt after the U.N. Security Council failed to pass a U.S.-sponsored resolution on Friday that called for a cease-fire in Gaza. Russia and China vetoed the measure, which marked the first time the United States directly called for an “immediate” cease-fire after vetoing earlier resolutions itself.

The proposed measure echoed growing international outrage over the humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah and calls for a cease-fire, as U.S. frustrations with Netanyahu mount.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli leaders confronted each other Friday about the direction of the war in Gaza, as the top U.S. diplomat called on Israel not to invade Rafah — where Israel’s offensive has already forced much of Gaza’s besieged population to flee.

Netanyahu has showed little sign of relenting to pressure from world leaders against the planned incursion, even with increasingly sharp criticism from Washington, Israel’s main military backer and ally. The Israeli leader said after meeting Blinken that there was “no way to defeat Hamas without entering Rafah,” declaring that “if needed, we’ll do it by ourselves.”

Here’s what else to know

David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, is joining cease-fire talks in Doha, along with senior negotiators from Qatar, Egypt and the United States, including CIA Director William J. Burns. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier that gaps were “narrowing” in negotiations for a deal between Israel and Hamas that could halt the fighting and secure the release of hostages — but he added that there was still “difficult work to get there.”

Israel’s far-right finance minister announced the seizure of some 3.8 square miles of Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank on Friday. The area marks the largest such land seizure since the 1993 Oslo accords, according to settlement watchdog group Peace Now. The move would directly undermine diplomatic efforts to agree a path to Palestinian statehood, and was announced after Blinken spent recent days meeting with Arab leaders about a postwar plan for Gaza.

Blinken also met with families of hostages held by Hamas on Friday, sitting down with the families of U.S. citizens in private. He spoke briefly to a small crowd of relatives of Israeli hostages and their supporters who had gathered to ask for U.S. help in reaching a cease-fire and hostage deal.

A group of 17 Democratic senators is calling on the Biden administration to reject Israel’s claims that it is not violating international law by restricting humanitarian aid. This comes amid a growing debate in Washington over whether the United States should suspend arms transfers to Netanyahu’s government, The Washington Post reports.

At least 32,070 people have been killed and 74,298 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 251 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

Cate Brown, Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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