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Dozens of House Democrats write to Biden over concerns of Israeli invasion of Rafah

More than 30 Democrats in the House of Representatives have written to Joe Biden over concerns that a possible Israeli ground invasion in southern Gaza could break aid rules he set.

In a letter sent to the president on Tuesday, the group said that the move in Rafah would likely go against Mr Biden’s declaration that any country receiving US weapons must use them in adherence with international humanitarian law.

“We write to express our deep sense of urgency and alarm about the potentially devastating consequences to innocent civilians of an Israeli military ground invasion of Rafah,” the letter stated. “We share the position highlighted by US Ambassador to the UN Thomas-Greenfield that ‘no attacks on Rafah should take place, given current circumstances.’”

The group, led by Texas congressman Joaquin Castro, Maryland’s Jamie Raskin and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, said that an extended Israeli offensive in Rafah would “further deteriorate the already dreadful conditions” being experienced by Palestinians there.

Palestinians walk past the rubble of a house destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)
Palestinians walk past the rubble of a house destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

The letter, signed by 37 members of Congress, pointed out that plans laid out by members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government included the expulsion and transfer of civilians to “destinations outside the Gaza Strip”, which could violate the Biden Administration’s rules around aid given to Israel.

Israel was originally given until mid-March to agree to abide by international law whilst using US weapons. Rafah has already come under aerial fire, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously said that a ground assault was “inevitable”.

“We urge you to use every tool at your disposal to ensure that the norms of American and international law are observed throughout this conflict and that all recipients of US aid are held accountable to the commitments demanded by NSM-20,” the letter continued.

“Peace is an urgent moral and political imperative, and strict adherence to international humanitarian law will help guide us on the road to peace.”

The letter came after both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

On Tuesday, the president said that “it’s in the hands of Hamas right now” when asked about the possible ceasefire, adding that the Israeli government had been cooperative.

A six-week ceasefire deal is currently on the table, with hopes that it can begin before Ramadan starts on Sunday 10 March.

Last weekend, Ms Harris said that “the immense scale of suffering in Gaza” requires “an immediate ceasefire”.

That speech had reportedly been toned down by White House officials, but it marked a change in rhetoric from the Biden administration as more Americans have called for a change in stance from leaders.

The Democrat group wrote that they are concerned that Rafah, where around a million Palestinians fled following Israel’s bombardment of north Gaza, could “compound the ongoing humanitarian crisis”.

They also raised concerns for the welfare of the remaining Israeli and American hostages held by Hamas, should the fighting intensify.

At least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed so far since war broke out on 7 October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, while UNICEF has raised concerns about the wellbeing of children in the territory, reporting some have died as a result of malnutrition or dehydration.

The war was sparked by the Hamas attack on Israel in which at least 1,200 people died and around 200 were taken hostage and moved to the enclave.