Troop movement suggests Israel could expand operations in Rafah soon, U.S. officials say

One of the officials said that the troop movement started days ago and that the U.S. does not know whether a larger incursion into Rafah would be days or weeks away.

The U.S. continues to urge Israel not to go “smashing into” Rafah in a major offensive and to ensure appropriate humanitarian precautions, the second official said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that a full-scale ground assault on Rafah would not achieve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated vow to eliminate Hamas following the Oct. 7 terror attacks on the country.

“Even if it goes in and takes heavy action in Rafah, there will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” Blinken said, noting that “we’ve seen, in areas that Israel has cleared in the north, even in Khan Younis, Hamas coming back.”

Nearly 360,000 people have fled Rafah since Israel ordered a partial evacuation a week ago and sent in tanks, according to the United Nations.

United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk on Sunday said that a full-scale Israeli military operation in Rafah “must not take place.”

“The latest evacuation orders affect close to a million people in Rafah. So where should they go now?” he said. “There is no safe place in Gaza. I reiterate — a full-scale offensive on Rafah cannot take place.”

President Joe Biden said last week the U.S. won’t transfer offensive weapons to Israel if it invades Rafah. The move was met with concern and anger by some Israeli officials.

More than 35,000 people in Gaza have died, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-ruled Gaza, since the war that began with the Oct. 7 terror attacks by Hamas. Those attacks killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, the Israel prime minister’s office has said, and Hamas also took hostages.

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