US plays down Rafah assault, says it will push for Gaza ceasefire deal

Washington, DC – The United States has played down the deadly Israeli assault on Rafah, saying the offensive appears to be “limited” despite concerns over the fate of the more than 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in the southern Gaza city.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday that the US still opposes a major Israeli offensive against Rafah.

Israel had stepped up its bombardment of Rafah on Monday, killing dozens of people after ordering about 100,000 residents in its eastern areas to evacuate. Israeli troops also stormed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which serves as a major gateway for humanitarian aid.

“This military operation that they launched last night was targeted just to Rafah gate,” Miller said on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t an operation in the civilian areas that they had ordered to be evacuated. So we will continue to make clear that we oppose a major military operation in Rafah.”

Still, Miller acknowledged that the attack on the crossing “does look like the prelude” to a larger offensive.

The Israeli attack closed the Rafah crossing, further straining the already inadequate flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Since October 9, Israel has intensified its existing blockade on the territory, bringing the Palestinian enclave to the verge of famine.

The Rafah crossing also serves as an entry point for humanitarian workers going into Gaza, and critically sick and injured people use it to leave the territory and receive treatment abroad.

Palestinians wait to evacuate on May 7, after Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [Hatem Khaled/Reuters]

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