Sat. May 25th, 2024

Israel shelled Rafah on Thursday as US President Joe Biden offered his starkest warning yet over the conduct of its war against Hamas, vowing to cut off arms transfers if an offensive into the southern Gaza city goes ahead.

Israel has already defied international objections by sending in tanks and conducting “targeted raids” in the border city, which it says is home to Hamas’s last remaining battalions — but is also crowded with displaced Palestinian civilians.

AFP journalists reported heavy shelling in Rafah early Thursday, and the Israeli military later said it was also striking “Hamas positions” further north in the centre of the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Biden warned he would stop US weapons supplies to Israel if it pushed ahead with its long-threatened Rafah ground offensive.

Israel on Thursday called the threat “very disappointing.”

Biden told CNN that, “If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used… to deal with the cities.” He added: “We’re not gonna supply the weapons and the artillery shells that have been used.”

Israel early Tuesday seized Rafah’s border crossing into Egypt, which has served as the main entry point for aid into besieged Gaza.

The White House condemned the interruption to humanitarian deliveries at the time, and the secretary of defence later confirmed Washington had paused a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel after it failed to address concerns over its Rafah ground incursion.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs,” Biden said in his interview. “It’s just wrong.”

He insisted, however, that the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, was “not walking away from Israel’s security”.

In Israel’s first reaction to Biden’s threat, its ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called it “a difficult and very disappointing statement to hear from a president to whom we have been grateful since the beginning of the war.”

The United States, along with Egypt and Cairo, has been heavily involved in talks currently under way in Cairo aimed at brokering a ceasefire in the seven-month war.

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