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There’s ‘no humanitarian catastrophe’ in Rafah, Netanyahu insists

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There is no humanitarian crisis in Rafah although almost 500,000 have fled the southern Gaza city in recent days as Israel’s military gains traction, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

The Biden administration and much of the world has repeatedly urged Israel to abandon plans for a major invasion of Rafah, fearing a worsening of the humanitarian crisis that has swept across Gaza since the war began.

“The civilian population is being evacuated and (we are) fulfilling our obligation to its humanitarian needs,” Netanyahu said. “The humanitarian catastrophe that has been spoken of has not been realized, nor will it.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking Wednesday from Ukraine, said Israel’s self-proclaimed “limited operation” in Rafah has had a “negative impact.” Blinken warned that Israel needs a clear plan for the future of Gaza or face chaos. So did Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who on Wednesday accused his own government of avoiding the discussion of a postwar Palestinian administration in Gaza.

But Netanyahu countered that until Hamas is driven from military control of Gaza, no one will take on the task of its civil management out of fear for their lives.

“Therefore, all the talk about ‘the day after’ while Hamas remains intact will remain mere words devoid of content,” Netanyahu said. “There is one alternative to victory – defeat, military, diplomatic and national defeat. My government will not agree to this.”

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Developments:

∎ Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged Netanyahu to fire Gallant for supporting some form of Palestinian rule in postwar Gaza. Ben-Gvir said the defense minister “failed on Oct. 7, and continues to fail even now.”

∎ Palestinians on Wednesday marked the 76th anniversary of Nakba Day − the Day of Catastrophe − when the Arab-Israeli war began, leading to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians being driven from their homes in what is now Israel.

∎ Hezbollah said its drone attack Wednesday hit a military base west of Israel’s Tiberias, marking the deepest into Israel the Lebanese militant group has struck since the war began Oct. 7. Israeli media said a drone explosion near a major intersection caused damage but no casualties.

∎ Netanyahu’s office said he will present a controversial bill that seeks to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military. The issue has drawn protests from the ultra-Orthodox community, about 13% of Israel’s nearly 10 million people.

∎ The European Union’s chief diplomat urged Israel to end its military operation in Rafah immediately. Josep Borrell said Israel must “refrain from further exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation.”

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The Israeli military on Wednesday released drone video appearing to show Hamas militants at a Rafah-area compound of the U.N. Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, drawing an accusation that the U.N. is itself a “terrorist entity.”

“Terrorists were identified in the central logistics complex of the UNRWA agency next to U.N. vehicles,” the Israeli military said in a statement. The building also had a large “U.N.” sign on its roof.

UNRWA, which said it was examining the footage, has repeatedly denied claims it cooperates with Hamas. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the men were there to protect aid distribution.

“The U.N. not only collaborates with terrorists, but its facilities in Gaza are terror compounds!” Gilan Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., wrote on social media. “Will Antonio Guterres, who is always so quick to condemn Israel, finally call out the organization he leads? The UN has become a weapon in the hands of terrorists!”

The UNRWA was set up to help Palestinian refugees displaced during the war that broke out around the time the state of Israel was created in 1948. The agency currently has about 13,000 staffers in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian. The Israelis claim that hundreds of them function as “military operatives” for Hamas.

Arms for Israel: Biden goes ahead with more than $1B in weapons to Israel

The Biden administration has informed Congress it intends to transfer more than $1 billion in weapons to Israel, a week after President Joe Biden said he was pausing the shipment of some heavy bombs to the country, a lawmaker familiar with the matter confirmed to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity. The Biden administration paused the shipment of 3,500 bombs to Israel over concerns they could be used in a major military operation in Rafah, where more than 1 million refugees have been sheltering.

The latest weapons package includes the potential transfer of $700 million in tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and $60 million in mortar rounds, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the development. The transfer will undergo congressional review before being sent. Read more here.

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy

The U.S. is working with Israel to bring American doctors out of Gaza amid the current Israeli military operation in the southern city of Rafah, the White House said Wednesday.

The doctors, from the Palestinian American Medical Association, told the Washington Post they got stuck in Gaza when Israel shut down the Rafah crossing last week. Israel has been evacuating parts of Rafah in anticipation of a larger incursion.

“We’re tracking this matter closely and working to get the impacted American citizens out of Gaza,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We need to get them out.”

Jordanian authorities have thwarted a suspected plot led by Iran that aimed to destabilize the U.S.-friendly kingdom by smuggling weapons from Tehran allies to saboteurs in Jordan, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The cache of arms, confiscated from Jordanians of Palestinian descent in late March, was sent to a cell of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan connected to Hamas, Jordanian sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters.

The Biden administration has made concerted efforts to keep the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza from expanding to other parts of the Middle East. Jordan plays a key strategic role in the region not only as an American ally but also a neighboring country to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, the last two home to Iran-backed militias.

Contributing: Reuters

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