Israel-Gaza conflict: President Joe Biden threatens to withhold weapons from IDF if Rafah invaded

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An Israeli soldier walks near an armoured personnel carrier near the border with the southern Gaza Strip.
An Israeli soldier walks near an armoured personnel carrier near the border with the southern Gaza Strip. Credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images

President Joe Biden has publicly warned Israel for the first time that the US would stop supplying it weapons if Israeli forces make a major invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah ... I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities - that deal with that problem,” Biden said on Wednesday in an interview with CNN.

The tougher stance from the President came as Hamas said it was unwilling to make any further concessions to Israel in its talks on a possible ceasefire which would put a pause on seven months of bloodshed in the Palestinian enclave.

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Biden acknowledged US weapons have been used by Israel to kill civilians in Gaza, where Israel has mounted a seven-month-old offensive aimed at annihilating Hamas. Israel’s campaign has so far killed 34,789 Palestinians, mostly civilians, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centres,” he said when asked about 2,000-pound bombs sent to Israel.

Israel this week attacked Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have sought refuge, but described it as a limited operation.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington had carefully reviewed the delivery of weapons that might be used in Rafah and as a result paused a shipment consisting of 1800 2000-pound (900kg) bombs and 1700 500-pound (225kg) bombs.

The interview was released hours after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged publicly Biden’s decision last week to hold up the delivery of thousands of heavy bombs was taken out of concern for Rafah, where Washington opposes a major Israeli invasion without civilian safeguards.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. That killed about 1200 people with about 250 others abducted, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Biden said the US would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel, including for its Iron Dome air defence system.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said.

“But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to - we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

Meanwhile Izzat El-Reshiq, a member of Hamas’ political office in Qatar, said in a statement late on Wednesday that the group would not go beyond a ceasefire proposal it accepted on Monday, which would also entail the release of some Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinian women and children detained in Israel.

“Israel isn’t serious about reaching an agreement and it is using the negotiation as a cover to invade Rafah and occupy the crossing,” said Reshiq.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which on Monday declared that the three-phase proposal approved by Hamas was unacceptable because terms had been watered down.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden has acknowledged US weapons have been used by Israel to kill civilians in Gaza. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

Delegations from Hamas, Israel, the US, Egypt and Qatar have been meeting in Cairo since Tuesday. Citing a senior source, Egypt’s state-affiliated Al Qahera TV said the talks in Cairo continued throughout Wednesday and into the night.

The US said on Tuesday that Hamas had revised its ceasefire proposal and the revision could overcome an impasse in negotiations.

Just a few hours before Hamas’ latest statement, Washington continued to say the two sides were not far apart.

“We believe there is a pathway to a deal ... The two sides are close enough they should do what they can to get to a deal,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

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