Middle East crisis live: Israel’s response in Gaza ‘over the top’, says US | Middle East and north Africa

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US tells Israel it will not support Rafah offensive as it would be a ‘disaster’ – video

US tells Israel it will not support Rafah offensive as it would be a ‘disaster’ – video

John Kirby, the US national security spokesperson warned Israel against conducting an offensive against Rafah, the last refuge of Palestinians fleeing the Israeli army’s assault on Gaza.

Kirby said the US would not support an attack on the southern town. He added that the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had expressed his concern to Israeli officials during his recent visit.

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US President Joe Biden has suggested that Israel’s military response in Gaza has been ‘over the top’. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

US President Joe Biden has suggested that Israel’s military response in Gaza has been “over the top” and said he is seeking a “sustained pause in the fighting” to help ailing Palestinian civilians.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

He added that he had been pushing for a deal to normalise Saudi Arabia-Israel relations, increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and a temporary pause in fighting to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

‘Our last stop is Rafah’: trapped Palestinians await Israeli onslaught

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“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Biden said. “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop.”

The Associated Press (AP) have a bit more detail on the strikes that killed at least nine people overnight on Friday.

AP say the strikes hit a residential building in Rafah and a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in the central town of Zuwaida. The dead and wounded were taken to nearby hospitals, where the bodies were seen by journalists from AP.

Evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of the Gaza Strip. Even in areas of refuge, such as Rafah, Israel routinely launches ai strikes against what it says are Hamas targets. It holds the militant group responsible for civilian casualties because it operates from civilian areas.

Israeli ground forces are still focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned this week that Rafah would be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Netanyahu’s words have also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel. The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.

Opening summary

It has just gone 9am in Gaza and Tel Aviv.

At least nine people, including children and women, were killed in Israeli airstrikes overnight into Friday in the central area of the Gaza Strip and in the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt, witnesses and hospital officials told The Associated Press (AP).

The overnight airstrikes came hours after US president Joe Biden said on Thursday that he considers Israel’s conduct of the war to be “over the top.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, left Israel on Thursday as the divide grows between the two close allies on the way forward.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been driven by Israel’s military offensive towards the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing UN-run shelters and it is reported that a quarter of the population are starving.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.

Here’s a summary of the latest developments:

  • Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip to the 7 October attacks by Hamas has in his view been “over the top,” US president Joe Biden said late on Thursday, adding that he is working to get a sustained pause in fighting in place. American support for Israel’s war on the Palestinian militant group has sparked a flurry of attacks on US troops in the region, as well as criticism of the Biden administration at home and abroad. “I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” Biden told reporters at the White House. But the US president said he had pushed to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza, claiming Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi initially “did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in”. “I talked to him, I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi [Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to open the gate on the Israeli side,” Biden said. “I’ve been pushing really hard, really hard to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”

  • Israeli forces intensified strikes on Rafah in southern Gaza, as the UN said such action would only “increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare”. More than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering in the southern border city of Rafah, with many of them in makeshift tents and lacking food and medicine. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha) added that fighting in Rafah would risk “further hampering a humanitarian operation already limited by insecurity, damaged infrastructure and access restrictions.” Israeli planes bombed areas in Rafah on Thursday morning, witnesses told Reuters, killing at least 11 people in strikes on two houses. Tanks also shelled some areas in eastern Rafah, intensifying fears of an imminent ground assault.

  • US Central Command said it conducted seven “self-defence” strikes against four Houthi unmanned surface vessels and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to be launched against ships in the Red Sea. US forces said they had determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.

  • Five Israeli hostages who were freed in November pleaded with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push for a deal, after he publicly rejected the terms of a ceasefire in Gaza proposed by Hamas.

  • Israeli forces detained two American brothers and their Canadian father in an overnight raid on their home in Gaza, relatives of the men said. National security council spokesperson John Kirby said on Thursday the administration will be talking to Israeli authorities about the report, as well as the Israeli military’s arrest of a US woman in the occupied West Bank earlier in the week. “We want to know more about the reasons here,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.

  • The US senate on Thursday advanced a wartime aid package for Ukraine and Israel, reviving an effort that had stalled amid Republican opposition to a border security bill they demanded and later abandoned. Senators voted 67 to 32 to begin consideration of the $95bn emergency aid bill but numerous hurdles remain before it can pass.

  • A German navy frigate has departed for the Red Sea, where Berlin plans to have it take part in an EU mission to help defend cargo ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. EU foreign ministers are expected to sign off on the Red Sea mission on 19 February. Officials have said that seven countries in the bloc are ready to provide ships or planes.

  • A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for more ceasefire talks on Thursday, a day after the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the group’s demands made as part of their response to a proposed ceasefire deal. Senior Lebanon-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan confirmed the trip at a news conference in Beirut while an Egyptian official has also told Agence France-Presse that “a new round of negotiations” is set to start on Thursday in Cairo aimed at achieving “calm in the Gaza Strip”.

  • US President Joe Biden will host Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday for talks on resolving the Israel-Hamas conflict, the White House said.

  • More reports emerged from Khan Younis of people in the vicinity of Nasser hospital being targeted by Israeli snipers, said Al Jazeera journalist Hani Mahmoud in Rafah. He said: “Paramedics are unable to get out of the hospital to help the injured and remove the dead from the streets.” Al Jazeera also quoted Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, saying the situation at the hospital complex is a “humanitarian disaster” adding that there are “300 medical staff, 450 wounded, and 10,000 displaced people in the Nasser medical complex being killed and starved.”

  • US secretary of state Antony Blinken left the Middle East on Thursday with public divisions between the US and Israel at perhaps their worst level since Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza began in October, reports the Associated Press. Blinken was returning to Washington after the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war would continue until Israel is completely victorious and appeared to reject outright a response from Hamas to a proposed ceasefire plan.

  • Repeated US strikes against Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq are pushing the government to end the mission of the US-led coalition in the country, the prime minister’s military spokesperson Yahya Rasool said on Thursday.

  • A journalist and his son have been killed in an Israeli airstrike on a residential building in the central Gaza Strip, reports Al Jazeera. Nafez Abdel Jawad, who worked for Palestine TV, was killed in a bombing of a residential building in the al-Salam neighbourhood in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip last night. The news organisation said that his only son also died in the airstrike and other injuries had also been reported.

  • Leading Palestinian human rights groups have accused the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide of failing to fulfil her mandate after she issued only one statement on the war in Gaza – largely supportive of Israel – that has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians.

  • The Canadian government did not see any evidence backing up Israel’s claim that staff employed by UNRWA colluded with Hamas before suspending funding to the agency, CBC News reports. Canadian officials told CBC News that Canada’s own decision to defund was a reaction to UNRWA’s decision to dismiss the staffers, which created the impression that the agency saw Israel’s allegation as credible.

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