Troop Movements Near Rafah Spark U.S. Concerns of Military Expansion

By Yoni Weiss

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, last week. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

NBC News has reported recent troop movements by Israel near the Gaza Strip’s city of Rafah, suggesting potential preparations for expanded military operations in the area. Citing U.S. sources, the report indicates that the IDF has amassed sufficient personnel on the outskirts of Rafah, indicating readiness to advance into other parts of the city. However, it remains uncertain whether Israel has definitively decided on the timing and scale of any further offensive action.

Quoting unnamed U.S. officials, NBC News stated, “The U.S. has seen recent troop movement that indicates Israel could expand operations in Rafah soon, but has not made a formal assessment about whether a full-scale invasion is imminent.”

The Biden administration has cautioned Israel against launching a large-scale military operation in Rafah, due to concerns about civilian casualties.

According to one U.S. official cited by NBC News, the buildup of Israeli troops near Rafah began several days ago, although the U.S. government is unsure whether a major incursion into the city itself is imminent, potentially occurring in the coming days or weeks.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks reportedly advanced further into eastern Rafah, penetrating residential neighborhoods in the southern border city. Israel’s allies and humanitarian organizations have repeatedly urged against a ground incursion into the refugee-packed area.

The International Court of Justice announced hearings on Thursday and Friday to address a request from South Africa for urgent measures regarding the Rafah incursion. South Africa alleges that the incursion, which Qatar says has hindered ceasefire efforts, violates the genocide convention. Israel has dismissed these accusations as unfounded.

Despite international concerns, Israel has vowed to continue its operation in Rafah, asserting its necessity to eradicate remaining Hamas units entrenched in the city.

The IDF reported eliminating “several armed terrorist cells” in close-quarter combat near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and destroying terrorist cells and missile launch sites within the city.

Evacuation orders issued by Israel prompted hundreds of thousands to flee Rafah, according to UNRWA estimates. Gun battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists escalated, with reports of intense fighting in various parts of the densely populated enclave. In Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, bulldozers cleared houses to make way for military operations, while in the Jabalia refugee camp, Israeli forces engaged in heavy shelling to root out militant activity.

Ceasefire talks, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, have stalled, with Qatar’s Prime Minister citing disagreements over the sequencing of ending hostilities and addressing hostages as hindrances to progress.

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