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Israel must ensure safety of people in Rafah, Biden tells Netanyahu

President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that a military operation in the overcrowded city of Rafah in southern Gaza should not proceed unless a plan for "ensuring the safety" of the population was laid out first, the White House said.

Agencies and A News MIDDLE EAST
Published February 11,2024
U.S. President Joe Biden (L) looks on during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Tel Aviv, Israel, 18 October 2023. (EPA File Photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday told the Israeli premier that Israel should not proceed with a military operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip without a plan to ensure the people's safety.

Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu had a phone call to discuss ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, a White House statement said.

The phone call came as the Israeli army plans to launch a ground offensive in Rafah, home to more than 1 million residents seeking refuge from war, to defeat what Tel Aviv calls the remaining "Hamas battalions." The planned offensive has triggered concerns of a humanitarian catastrophe in the city.

The White House statement said: "He (Biden) also called for urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians.

"And he reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there."

Biden also reaffirmed the "shared goal to see Hamas defeated" and to ensure the "long-term security of Israel and its people," the statement said.

The two leaders agreed to remain in close contact, it added.

Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah as Israel pounded the rest of the enclave since Oct. 7. The ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed more than 28,000 victims and caused mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

The Israeli war on Gaza has 85% of the territory's population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60% of the enclave's infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

In late 2023 South Africa filed a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Israel of failing to uphold its commitments under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The UN court, in its interim ruling in January, ruled that South Africa's claims are plausible. It ordered provisional measures for Israel's government to desist from genocidal acts, and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.