Home » Middle East crisis: international concern grows over looming Rafah offensive as death toll from airstrike reportedly rises – as it happened

Middle East crisis: international concern grows over looming Rafah offensive as death toll from airstrike reportedly rises – as it happened

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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Key events

Summary

That concludes today’s blog on the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza. Here’s the latest from today:

  • At least 74 civilians in Palestine were reportedly killed due to Israel’s airstrike in Rafah, Reuters reported, citing Palestine TV. The death toll from the Rafah airstrikes increased from 67 reported earlier today.

  • US officials said that Israel’s airstrike launched in Rafah doesn’t represent a full-scale offensive. The White House and the US state department both repeated that the US is in favor of an “extended humanitarian pause” in fighting in Gaza, but did not call for an official ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

  • The White House said on Monday that Israel should protect the over 1 million civilians living in Rafah amid airstrikes. The White House is reiterating that Israel must have a credible plan to protect the people in Rafah before its planned invasion of the southern Gaza city.

  • The US said it would not be threatening to hold back funding or military assistance from Israel in light of Israel’s bombing of Rafah, state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.

  • Hamas says three of eight Israeli hostages injured in Rafah airstrikes have died. A Hamas spokesperson said that they would postpone releasing the names of the deceased until “the fate of the remaining wounded becomes clear”.

Thank you for reading the Guardian’s coverage.

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France evacuated 42 people from Gaza on Monday through the Rafah border crossing, AFP reported.

French officials evacuated 42 people from Gaza, including French nationals and staff from the French cultural institute.

“After a request from France, 42 people today left the Gaza Strip through the Rafa border crossing” which is located in Egypt, France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the United Nation secretary general said that the UN “will not be party” to forced displacement of civilians living in Rafah, adding that there is no place in Gaza that is safe, AFP reported.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric spoke to reporters on Monday about Israel’s expected military invasion of Rafah and the UN’s plan to protect civilians.

Dujarric told reporters that the UN would “ensure that anything that happens is done in full respect of international law, in the full respect of the protection of civilians,” adding that the UN “will not be party to forced displacement of people…as it is, there is no place that is currently safe in Gaza.”

“You can’t send people back to areas that are littered with unexploded ordnance, not to mention a lack of shelter,” the UN spokesman said, referring to parts of the northern and central Gaza Strip.

Dujarric’s comments come after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israel’s military to prepare for a military invasion of Rafah and promised to provide a “safe passage” for millions of civilians residing in the densely-packed city during an interview with ABC over the weekend.

Netanyahu did not specify where exactly civilians would be evacuated to.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates called on the international community to “stop Israel’s genocide and destruction of Palestinian people”, in a statement issued Monday following Israel’s latest airstrike in Rafah.

“World leaders have a historic responsibility to prevent Israel from launching a ground assault on Rafah and the foreseeable apocalyptic consequences.

Expressing concern without taking determined effective actions is a moral and political failure,” the territory’s ministry of foreign affairs and expatriates said in a statement.

The latest statement comes after 74 civilians in Palestine were killed in Rafah by Israeli airstrike, with Israel expected to launch a military invasion in the city. Local officials have said that the death toll from the airstrike is expected to rise.

“Gaza is a slaughterhouse and Israel’s deliberate mass killing, starvation, and the forcible transfer of 1.3 million people, half of whom are children, in Rafah is the most barbaric and savage of all,” the statement read.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) representative for the United Nations said the country is “extremely worried” about Israel’s military operations in Rafah, adding that any military operation by Israel would have “unacceptable consequences”.

“The UAE is extremely worried at this point,” said ambassador Lana Nusseibeh during an event in Dubai.

“Any military operation in Rafah would have unacceptable consequences,” she added.

Nusseibeh reiterated the need for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and a ceasefire agreement, BBC reported.

“You cannot deny the Palestinian right to statehood – and that is an Arab consensus,” she said.

Nusseibeh also defended the UAE’s diplomatic ties with Israel amid mounting anger in the region, saying that continued cooperation between the two countries has secured resources in Gaza, AFP reported.

“Because of that cooperation… we have a field hospital in Gaza and we have a maritime hospital docking in the Al-Arish port,” Nusseibeh said.

Rafah airstrike death toll raised to 74, according to reports

At least 74 civilians in Palestine were reportedly killed due to Israel’s airstrike in Rafah, Reuters reported, citing Palestine TV.

The latest death toll is an increase from earlier, when local officials reported that 67 Palestinians were killed in heavy airstrikes launched by the Israeli military.

Officials have said that fatality figures are likely to rise.

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The White House and the US state department have reiterated that the US is strongly in favour of a negotiated, extended humanitarian pause in the war between Israel and Hamas, while there remains no US call for an official ceasefire.

The White House on Monday pressed Israel to work toward a pause in the Gaza conflict, Reuters added, in order to win freedom for more hostages held by Hamas and rapidly increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.

We’re wrapping up some of the news lines emerging from the White House and US State Department briefings just now.

John Kirby, White House national security spokesperson, talked of some progress in negotiations toward a humanitarian pause – but said more work remains.

We continue to support an extended humanitarian pause,” Kirby said.

US president Joe Biden spoke to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone yesterday and said the Israeli military operation in Rafah in the far south of Gaza “should not proceed” without a plan to protect civilians there.

Early on Monday afternoon at the state department press briefing, spokesman Matthew Miller said the US government continues to push for a pause and believes “a deal is possible”.

CIA director William Burns will be in Cairo tomorrow and international talks are expected in the Egyptian capital into Wednesday to discuss a deal for a pause in the fighting and the return of more hostages.

“We believe these discussions are important,” Miller said.

Qatar and Turkey will take part. It is not yet confirmed whether Israel will participate.

Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters gather outside Downing St in London, where the British Prime Minister’s residence is located, in response to reports that Israel is preparing for an offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

My Guardian US colleague Gloria Oladipo will take over this live blog now.

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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.