UN official warns of 'slaughter' if Israel invades crowded Rafah: Live updates

Feb 19, 2024
This page is a summary of news on the Israel-Hamas war for Tuesday, Feb. 13. For the latest news on the conflict in the Middle East, view our live updates file on the war for Wednesday, Feb. 14.

This page is a summary of news on the Israel-Hamas war for Tuesday, Feb. 13. For the latest news on the conflict in the Middle East, view our live updates file on the war for Wednesday, Feb. 14.

A top United Nations official on Tuesday warned of a "slaughter'' if Israel invades the southern Gaza city of Rafah, while the Israeli military chief said civilians can be protected even though thousands have already been killed in the war.

Martin Griffiths, head of U.N. emergency relief efforts, said he feared for the fate of about 1.4 million people sheltering in and around Rafah, the border city Israel considers Hamas' last stronghold and plans to attack.

"Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza,'' Griffiths said in an online statement. "They could also leave an already fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door.'' 

About two-thirds of the more than 28,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza have been women and children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. Still, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said they have plenty of experience keeping civilians out of harm's way.

“In previous parts of the war, we sought to isolate the population,'' Halevi said in a news conference. "We have the capabilities to do it. We did it in Gaza City. We did it in Khan Younis. We did it in the central camps.''

On Monday, a brazen Israeli hostage rescue mission backed by heavy air power freed two hostages held in Rafah while killing at least 74 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

The U.S. is looking into reports of the Israeli military harming civilians and whether the longtime ally is conforming with guidelines for receiving American weapons, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday.


∎ A Western diplomat in Cairo told AP the six-week deal was on the table but cautioned that more work is still needed to reach an agreement.

∎ The primary issues that continue to block a cease-fire include Israel's pledge to crush Hamas and remain in charge of security in Gaza after the war and Hamas' demands of a permanent cease-fire and withdrawal of all Israeli troops.

∎ South Africa’s government said Tuesday that it has made an "urgent request" to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting Rafah are a breach of the court's provisional orders to do everything possible to prevent acts of genocide.

∎ The Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill Tuesday that includes $14 billion in military aid to Israel, but it faced long odds in the House because of GOP opposition, stoked by former President Donald Trump.

∎ The Al Jazeera network said two of its journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah and one of them required an amputation.

Cease-fire talks don't yield results but get extended

The progress reported in recent negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza did not lead to a breakthrough Tuesday in Cairo, but the participants agreed to extend the talks for three more days with lower-level officials, the New York Times reported.

Tuesday's meeting involving the U.S., Israel, Egypt and Qatar concluded with a “keenness to continue consultation and coordination” on the main topics, Egypt’s state information service said, according to Reuters.

President Joe Biden said Monday that “key elements” of a six-week truce were in place and he encouraged Israel to work through the “gaps” that remain, ideally before an expected offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that could scuttle an agreement.

Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had balked at sending representatives to Cairo but bowed to pressure from the Biden administration. Political support in the U.S., crucial to Israel for gaining congressional approval of military aid, has been fading amid the rising civilian casualties.

A weeklong cease-fire in November led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Recent talks have focused on freeing the 100-plus remaining captives even as Israel intensifies its offensive in Rafah, where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to seeking shelter from fighting elsewhere.

US fighting 'rising trend' of hostage-taking, Blinken says

Speaking to a Washington audience about arbitrary detention, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday hostage-taking is "genuinely a crisis'' and "part of a rising trend.''

Blinken said he spoke Monday with businessman Paul Whelan, who along with Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is one of two Americans the U.S. considers wrongfully detained in Russia.

Blinken also referenced the Biden administration's continued efforts to gain the release of hostages held in Gaza, including eight Americans, and said of their families: "The agony that they face – simply not knowing, not knowing the fate of their loved ones – is beyond our imaginations.''

To increase global pressure against hostage-taking, the U.S. joined in 2021 a coalition that now includes 74 nations and the European Union, Blinken said.

"Together we’re sending a clear message: Our citizens are not human bargaining chips. They are not political pawns,'' he said. "If any country wrongfully holds any of our people, we will hold them accountable.''

American Jews feel less safe since war began

More than three-quarters of American Jews feel less safe in the U.S. because of the Hamas attacks and nearly half have changed their behavior as a result, according to a report on antisemitism released Tuesday by the American Jewish Committee.

The AJC's State of Antisemitism in America 2023 report comes four months after the Oct. 7 assaults on Israel that sparked the war and a subsequent wave of rising antisemitism worldwide. It found that 63% of American Jews feel Jewish people in the U.S. are less secure than a year ago, a sharp increase from 41% in 2022 and 31% in 2021.

"No one should be fearful of being targeted or harassed for being Jewish when walking down the street, going to school, or being at work," said Ted Deutch, the American Jewish Committee’s CEO. "This isn’t a new problem, but the explosion of antisemitism since Oct. 7 demands that we take collective action now."

− Marc Ramirez