White House Says Israel’s Rafah Strike Doesn’t Cross Red Line

(Bloomberg) -- The White House said an Israeli strike on an encampment in Rafah that left dozens dead was devastating but would not cause President Joe Biden to freeze additional arms shipments to the country.

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“As a result of this strike on Sunday, I have no policy changes to speak to,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

The US would be monitoring the investigation into the incident and expected Israel to learn lessons from the airstrike, Kirby said. But Kirby said the bombing – which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “tragic mistake” – was short of the large-scale military operation that the US has warned Israel would carry consequences.

“We don’t support, we won’t support, a major ground operation in Rafah, and we’ve again been very consistent on that,” Kirby said. “And the president said that, should that occur, then it might make him have to make different decisions in terms of support. We haven’t seen that happen.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 45 people, including children, were killed and an additional 249 people were wounded in the strike, prompting condemnation from leaders around the globe. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for an immediate ceasefire in Rafah following the bombing, which came just days after the International Court of Justice called on Israel’s military to stop its offensive in the area.

Biden has asked Israel to refrain from major military operations in Rafah, warning there were too many civilians to avoid unintended casualties. But the president has previously said he was not concerned by limited strikes in the area, and US officials in recent days say they’ve been encouraged by Israeli efforts to revise battle plans to curb the potential impact on civilians.

Israeli officials said they used precise munitions in the operation, which was intended to target senior Hamas leaders. Hamas, which orchestrated the October 7 attack on Israel, is labeled a terror organization by the European Union and US.

The White House noted that Israel’s claimed use of smaller bombs was “certainly indicative of an effort to be discrete and targeted and precise” as Kirby defended the decision not to impose new arms restrictions on Israel.

“We have not seen them smash into Rafah,” Kirby said. “We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground.”

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