WASHINGTON: Senior US and Israeli officials held a virtual meeting on Monday to discuss the Biden administration’s alternative proposals to an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, opposed by Washington.

President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to conduct a large-scale offensive in Rafah to avoid more civilian casualties among the Palestinian population in Gaza.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US had made its concerns known about any major ground operation in Rafah.

“If they are going to move forward with a military operation, we have to have this conversation,” Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. “We have to understand how they’re going to move forward.”

Netanyahu vows to destroy Hamas; Israeli lawmakers okay ban on Al Jazeera

An Israeli official in Washington said Israeli participants included strategic affairs minister Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. They are the same confidants of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had been due to attend a Washington meeting last week that Netanyahu cancelled.

‘Successful’ hernia operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whose office said he underwent a “successful” hernia operation Sunday — has vowed to destroy Hamas, including in Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah.

The premier was “in good shape and beginning to recover”, his office said in a statement.

Netanyahu is under rising pressure from the prisoners’ families and supporters as well as anti-government protesters, whose nightly street rallies have gathered pace and drawn many thousands onto the streets.

Israel bans Al Jazeera

Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament passed a bill on Monday giving top ministers the authority to ban the broadcast of news channel Al Jazeera — a step premier Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to take.

The law that passed by 70 votes to 10 carries the authority to ban the broadcast of content from foreign channels but also allows the closing of their offices in Israel.

Netanyahu had earlier vowed to take “immediate action” to shut down Al Jazeera in Israel once the law passes.

Israel had claimed in January that an Al Jazeera staff journalist and a freelancer killed in an air strike in Gaza were “terror operatives”.

In February, it alleged that another journalist of the news channel, wounded in a separate strike, was a “deputy company commander” with Hamas.

Al Jazeera has fiercely denied the accusations and accused Israel of systematically targeting Al Jazeera employees in the Gaza Strip.

The bill permitting officials to stop foreign media deemed to harm national security had already passed its first parliamentary hurdle last month.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said he asked “to make sure that the law to close Al Jazeera will be approved this evening” in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Al Jazeera‘s bureau chief in the Palestinian territory, Wael al-Dahdouh, was also wounded, in an Israeli strike in December that killed the network’s cameraman.

Israeli forces have escalated attacks in Gaza for past six months.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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