Biden warns of halting weapon supplies to Israel if major Rafah invasion occurs

Biden warns of halting weapon supplies to Israel if major Rafah invasion occurs

President Joe Biden said for the first time Wednesday he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a major invasion of the city of Rafah in Gaza. This announcement amounts to a turning point in the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Biden told CNN's Erin Burnett in an exclusive interview, "I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven't gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem."

The president has come under extraordinary pressure, including from members of his own party, to limit shipments of arms amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Until now, he had resisted those calls and strongly supported Israel's efforts to go after Hamas. Yet a looming invasion of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinian civilians have been sheltering, appears to have shifted his calculus.

"Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers," Biden said, referring to 2,000-pound bombs that he paused shipments of last week. This was a stark recognition of the United States' role in the war.

Biden said while the US would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel, including for its Iron Dome air defense system, other shipments would end should a major ground invasion of Rafah begin. "We're going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently," he said. "But it's, it's just wrong. We're not going to – we're not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells."

"We're not walking away from Israel's security. We're walking away from Israel's ability to wage war in those areas," Biden clarified.

Already, the US has paused a shipment of "high-payload munitions" due to Israel's possible operations in Rafah without a plan for the civilians there, according to the Pentagon, though it said a final decision on that shipment hadn't been made. The administration has said it is reviewing the potential sale or transfer of other munitions. Israeli officials privately expressed to US officials "deep frustration" on the pause in shipments as well as the US media briefings on the decision, according to a source briefed on the matter.

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