Home » Middle East crisis live: US suggests it is not rethinking military aid to Israel amid growing concern over Rafah

Middle East crisis live: US suggests it is not rethinking military aid to Israel amid growing concern over Rafah

US not threatening to hold back funding and military assistance, says state department spokesman

The US state department is currently conducting a press briefing and spokesman Matthew Miller is responding to questions about whether the US is motivated to withdraw US funding and arms for Israel in order to pressure the state to de-escalate its military offensive in Gaza.

Under questioning from reporters, Miller has said that the US is using tools of persuasion to pressure Israel but indicated those tools do not include the threat of holding back on funding and military assistance, while saying America’s leverage on Israel is currently “not enough”.

Miller is focusing on public comments coming from US leadership, led by US president Joe Biden, who has cranked up his criticism in recent days of Israel’s violent destruction in Gaza.

“When the US stands up and says something public, that matters,” Miller said.

He added: “We have seen the government of Israel respond to it, not always the way we want or to the degree that we want.”

Miller said the US does not have “a magic wand” to fix international problems and influence policy. But reporters are pushing back by saying, yes, but the US does have the “wand” in the shape of unstinting financial support for Israel’s military might, which is fundamentally different from what another reporter characterised as “finger wagging” so far by the US to Israel.

Unhelpfully, the White House is now conducting it’s press briefing, so we’ll bring you highlights from that asap. Sticking with State Department for now.

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Key events

The White House has acknowledged that the US does not know the locations of the remaining hostages snatched by Hamas during its murderous attacks on southern Israel last October 7 and taken into Gaza, and they may not all still be alive.

During the weekday media briefing in the west wing moments ago with national security spokesman John Kirby, which is now ongoing with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Kirby said: “We do not have a lot of specific information about where each of the hostages are.”

There are believed to be at least 130 hostages still held in Gaza by Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory, out of the approximately 240 people who were originally taken on October 7. Since then, some groups have been released and some hostages have died.

Of those remaining in Hamas captivity in Gaza, Kirby said: “We need to accept the possibility that some hostages are no longer alive.”

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby answers questions as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calls on members of the news media during a press briefing at the White House today. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

US says Rafah strikes don’t represent launch of full-scale offensive

Both the White House and the US state department have been consistent today in repeating the US position as being in favor of an “extended humanitarian pause” in fighting in Gaza – but without calling for an official ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The White House moments ago, in the media briefing in the west wing, welcomed news that the Israeli military had freed two hostages during a raid by special forces in Rafah overnight.

John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, said there can be no end to the Gaza crisis until Hamas releases all hostages, Reuters adds.

The White House said it cannot confirm that civilians were killed in the overnight raid on Rafah by Israel to retrieve hostages.

Meanwhile the US state department said it is not Washington’s assessment that the Israeli air strikes in Rafah overnight during the hostage rescue represents the launch of a full scale offensive in the area. The departments concur with Israel that it believes Hamas military battalions are operating in Rafah. The state department briefing has just finished. The White House briefing is ongoing.

Last week: US President Joe Biden departs the White House walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House 9 February 2024. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/EPA

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White House stresses Israel’s ‘obligation to protect’ over 1 million people in Rafah

The White House is reiterating that Israel must have a credible plan to protect the people in Rafah before launching an all-out offensive to try to eliminate Hamas from the southern Gazan city.

The US is not opposing Israeli aspirations to “go into Rafah to remove Hamas”, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said in the White House media briefing moments ago.

But “it’s not advisable to go in in a major way without a credible plan for the million people taking refuge in Rafah. Israel has an obligation to protect them,” Kirby said.

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US not threatening to hold back funding and military assistance, says state department spokesman

The US state department is currently conducting a press briefing and spokesman Matthew Miller is responding to questions about whether the US is motivated to withdraw US funding and arms for Israel in order to pressure the state to de-escalate its military offensive in Gaza.

Under questioning from reporters, Miller has said that the US is using tools of persuasion to pressure Israel but indicated those tools do not include the threat of holding back on funding and military assistance, while saying America’s leverage on Israel is currently “not enough”.

Miller is focusing on public comments coming from US leadership, led by US president Joe Biden, who has cranked up his criticism in recent days of Israel’s violent destruction in Gaza.

“When the US stands up and says something public, that matters,” Miller said.

He added: “We have seen the government of Israel respond to it, not always the way we want or to the degree that we want.”

Miller said the US does not have “a magic wand” to fix international problems and influence policy. But reporters are pushing back by saying, yes, but the US does have the “wand” in the shape of unstinting financial support for Israel’s military might, which is fundamentally different from what another reporter characterised as “finger wagging” so far by the US to Israel.

Unhelpfully, the White House is now conducting it’s press briefing, so we’ll bring you highlights from that asap. Sticking with State Department for now.

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Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a televised address after chairing a meeting of his cabinet on Monday that Israel’s Gaza offensive will be at the top of the agenda in his talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi that are planned for Wednesday, Reuters reports.

There aren’t many more details available yet, but we’ll bring them to you as they emerge.

In the same address, Erdoğan said the two leaders would also talk about the economy, trade, tourism, energy and defence.

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Hamas says three of eight Israeli hostages injured in Rafah airstrikes have died

The armed wing of Hamas said on Monday that three of eight Israeli hostages who were seriously injured following Israeli airstrikes had died from their wounds, Reuters reports.

We will postpone the announcement of the names and pictures of the dead for the coming days until the fate of the remaining wounded becomes clear,” the Al Qassam Brigades said in a statement.

More details to when they emerge. This statement follows the Israeli assault in Rafah overnight in which special forces and other military rescued two hostages held by Hamas, while dozens died in collateral destruction wrought by Israeli air strikes. The hostages were being held in the city of Rafah in the far south of Gaza, on the border with Egypt, where Palestinian residents and refugees are packed in.

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Prior to posting the powerful warning on investigating war crimes in Gaza, International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan reposted a powerful X post from Malaysian international lawyer and war crimes lawyer Shyamala Alagendra.

She has posted to share an opinion piece from this past weekend’s Observer – the Guardian’s Sunday paper sibling – entitled “The world is waging war on its children, in an obscene mockery of international law” and written by foreign affairs commentator Simon Tisdall. The piece is subtitled: “From Gaza to Ukraine, from Sudan to Myanmar, youngsters are being raped, abducted, maimed, killed and even recruited as soldiers.”

From Ukraine and Gaza to Sudan and Myanmar, respect for the “laws of war” is being eroded or is non-existent. Most shocking, and unforgivable, is the wanton harm done to children.
… The cost to children will be borne [by] generations to come.” https://t.co/N9MQyF5rwy

— Shyamala Alagendra (@salagendra) February 12, 2024

Tisdall wrote that:

From Ukraine and Gaza to Sudan and Myanmar, respect for the “laws of war” is being eroded or is non-existent. Non-combatants are deliberately targeted. Most shocking, and unforgivable, is the wanton harm – the UN term is “grave violations” – done to children.

In his latest report on children and conflict, UN secretary general António Guterres warned that children “continued to be disproportionately affected” by war-related violence and abuses. By this, he meant killing and maiming, rape, sexual violence, abductions, school attacks and recruitment of child soldiers. All were on the rise.”

You can read the full article here.

The International Criminal Court is “actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed” in Gaza, its prosecutor Karim Khan said on X/Twitter a few minutes ago.

I am deeply concerned by the reported bombardment and potential ground incursion by Israeli forces in Rafah.  
 
My Office has an ongoing and active investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine. This is being taken forward as a matter of the utmost urgency, with a…

— Karim A. A. Khan KC (@KarimKhanQC) February 12, 2024

He further posted: “All wars have rules and the laws applicable to armed conflict cannot be interpreted so as to render them hollow or devoid of meaning. This has been my consistent message, including from Ramallah last year. Since that time, I have not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel.

“As I have repeatedly emphasised, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action pursuant to its mandate. Those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.”

He added: “I also continue to call for the immediate release of all hostages. This also represents an important focus of our investigations.”

The ICC is not to be confused with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ is the United Nation’s top court, established in 1945, and rules on disputes between countries as well as giving advisory opinions.

Both are based in The Hague in the Netherlands. The ICC is an inter-governmental organisation that prosecutes those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, established in 2002 as a result of an international treaty.

International pressure is growing on Israel to hold back amid threats to invade Rafah in the far south of Gaza, where about a million Palestinian refugees have more than doubled the local population after being driven from the rest of the territory by Israel’s military offensive against Hamas, the Islamist militancy that has controlled Gaza since 2007.

The latest to speak up is Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief. In further remarks made in Geneva on Monday, AFP reports, he said:

My office has repeatedly warned against actions that violate the laws of war. The prospect of such an operation into Rafah, as circumstances stand, risks further atrocity crimes. The world must not allow this to happen.

Those with influence must restrain rather than enable. There must be an immediate ceasefire. All remaining hostages must be released. And there must be renewed collective resolve to reach a political solution,” Turk said.

UN high commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk briefs member states on his recent trip to the Middle East during an informal briefing, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 2023. Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP

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UN human rights chief adds to calls for international effort to ‘restrain’ Israel

United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk is urging world powers to “restrain rather than enable” Israel as fears of a looming ground incursion grow among more than one million Palestinians trapped in Gaza’s far south.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to send ground troops into the crowded Rafah area as part of his goal of eliminating Hamas. His declarations have sparked international alarm, Agence France-Presse reports.

The agency further reports:

A potential full-fledged military incursion into Rafah – where some 1.5 million Palestinians are packed against the Egyptian border with nowhere further to flee – is terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured.

Sadly, given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah.

“Beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets, this incursion into Rafah may also mean the end of the meagre humanitarian aid that has been entering and distributed with huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north,” Turk said in a statement on Monday.

“The world must not allow this to happen. Those with influence must restrain rather than enable. There must be an immediate ceasefire. All remaining hostages must be released. And there must be renewed collective resolve to reach a political solution.” – @volker_turk

— United Nations Geneva (@UNGeneva) February 12, 2024

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The Israeli raid in southern Gaza overnight lasted less than 90 minutes. The two hostages rescued were being held in an apartment guarded by Hamas gunmen, and the Associated Press offers a time line, in the local time zone (GMT +2hrs).

Local officials said 67 Palestinians were killed in heavy airstrikes launched to cover the Israeli military operation.

At 1.49am Israeli special forces stormed the apartment in Rafah where the hostages were being held.A gun battle erupted with Hamas captors.

At 1.50am, Israeli warplanes and attack helicopters used airstrikes to provide cover, flattening several residential blocks in a built-up refugee camp dating all the way back to the 1948 war, when the state of Israel was established.

At 2.30am the first reports of Palestinian casualties from Israeli strikes emerge.

At 3.14am freed hostages Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har in hospital in Israel by helicopter, where relatives await them.

At 5.30am hospitals in Rafah report Palestinians were killed in the air strikes.

At 9.59am Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomem the hostages home and praised the forces who rescued them.

At 10.17am the Gaza Health Ministry said 67 Palestinians were killed in the operation, with the toll likely to rise as recovery efforts continue.

People stand around craters caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip, on Monday on February 12, 2024. Photograph: Ismael Mohamad/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

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Lisa O’Carroll

The EU’s foreign affairs chief has called on US to stop sending arms to Israel as it did in 2006 when Tel Aviv failed to heed a growing international backlash over the then war with Lebanon.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative, also sharply criticised Benjamin Netanyahu plan to launch an offensive in Rafah, where many Palestinans have fled for safety.

It comes as a Dutch appeals court ordered the Netherlands government to block the delivery of parts for F-35 fighter jets to Israel over concerns they are being used to violate international law, something Israel denies.

“Netanyahu doesn’t listen to anyone. [He says] they are going to evacuate [the people]. Where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate this people to? he told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with the head of UNRWA, the UN agency funding Palestinian schools and hospitals.

With his patience clearly tested over the continuing bombing of Gaza, Borrell told reporters that leaders, including Joe Biden, who decry the killing, needed to stop arming Israel.

“How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders of the world saying too many people are being killed.

“President Biden has said this [killing] is too much, said it is not proportional.

“Well if you believe that too many people are being killed maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed. That is logical,” said Borrell.

“In 2006 the world … the US already took this decision. They already a took the decision to halt the supply of arms to Israel because Israel didn’t want to stop the war. Exactly the same thing happens today. Everybody goes to Tel Aviv begging ‘Please, don’t do that, protect civilians; don’t kill so many. How many is too many?”

‘Provide less arms’ if you think death toll is too high, Josep Borrell tells Israel allies – video

UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini revealed the organisation was facing a funding gap of hundreds of millions of euro after some countries paused or suspended payments in the light of allegations that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

Before the allegations the UN agency had funds sufficient to operate until July including a now at risk €82m tranche from the EU in early March.

Now, Lazzarini said it would be “negative” to the tune of €30m to €40m in March, “significantly negative” from April. “Just to cover salaries of 30,000 staff across the region, we need at minimum €60m just .. for the salaries.

He warned that if UNRWA was closed it would have “devastating” consequences in terms of food supplies and post-war on education of “traumatised boys and girls”.

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Ashifa Kassam

Ashifa Kassam

The Dutch government has been ordered to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, after a Dutch appeals court ruled that there was a “clear risk” that the planes could be used to violate international humanitarian law.

Several human rights organisations launched the legal challenge in December, calling for the continued transfer of aircraft parts to be reevaluated in the context of Israel’s current military actions in Gaza.

On Monday the appeals court appeared to side with campaigners. “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk that the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said in its ruling.

The Dutch government said it would file an appeal with the country’s supreme court, amid concerns that the order had over-stepped the state’s responsibility to formulate its own foreign policy.

“The delivery of US F-35 parts to Israel in our view is not unjustified,” the country’s trade minister, Geoffrey van Leeuwen, said. He said the F-35s were crucial for Israel’s security and its ability to protect itself from threats in the region, “for example from Iran, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon”.

The Netherlands is home to one of three European regional warehouses that contain US-owned F-35 parts to be shipped to various partners, including Israel, as per existing export agreements.

The appeals court said it was likely that the F-35s were being used in Gaza. “Israel does not take sufficient account of the consequences for the civilian population when conducting its attacks,” the court decision noted, adding that the military offensive in Gaza has “caused a disproportionate number of civilian casualties, including thousands of children.”

Israel’s aerial and ground offensive in the densely populated Gaza Strip has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities, and displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.

Israel launched its offensive in response to cross-border raid by Hamas on southern Israel during which 1,200 Israelis were killed and hundreds more taken hostage. Israeli officials have said that Hamas deliberately uses civilians to protect its military infrastructure and fighters, a charge denied by the Islamist group.

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, Feb. 12, 2024. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

US should rethink military aid to Israel, EU foreign policy chief indicates

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made a thinly veiled call on Monday for the United States to rethink its military aid to Israel due to the high number of civilian casualties in the war in Gaza.

Borrell recalled that US president Joe Biden said last week that Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas attack had been “over the top” and US officials had repeatedly said that too many civilians were being killed in Gaza, Reuters reported.

“Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed,” Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU development aid ministers in Brussels.

“If the international community believes that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe we have to think about the provision of arms,” he added.

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Summary of the day so far..

  • The UK announced new sanctions on “four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the Foreign Office said.

  • Israel freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and injured dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians. The freed hostages were named by the Israel Defense Forces as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were taken from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

  • There are growing international concerns about the prospect of a ground offensive on the southern city of Rafah. The Australian government warned that Israel’s plans for a military offensive on Rafah could have “devastating consequences” for Palestinian civilians sheltering there. The foreign minister, Penny Wong, also suggested on Monday that a failure to ensure special care for more than 1 million civilians in the area, many in makeshift tents, would “cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests”. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, meanwhile, said he is “extraordinarily concerned” about Benjamin Netanyahu’s threats to launch attacks on Rafah with no evacuation plan and no prospect of refugee camps in Egypt. On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said: “I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled the destruction.” The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah. Echoing these concerns, the UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, adding that many of the people in the city had already fled from other areas and have nowhere else to go.

  • A Dutch appeals court ordered the Dutch government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel within seven days, according to Reuters. “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

  • Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 28,340 Palestinians and injured 67,984 since 7 October, the health ministry in Gaza said.

  • The UK government has a duty not just to support the orders of the International Court of Justice, but to change UK policy by suspending the supply of arms to Israel, David Cameron has been told by 30 UK-based organisations including legal and atrocity prevention groups.

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Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations’ agency UNRWA, said on Monday he had “no intention to resign” after allegations that some staff members participated in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October.

UNRWA chief says he has no intention of resigning – video

The UN agency provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza and since the allegations were made a number of donor countries have suspended funding. UNRWA has launched an investigation and dismissed staff accused of involvement in the attack.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has been holding a press conference alongside Lazzarini in Brussels.

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