US, Israel hold virtual talks in standoff over invading Rafah

Monday's negotiation comes after Israel canceled an in-person meeting.

April 1, 2024, 5:29 PM

U.S. and Israeli officials held virtual talks Monday to continue to discuss the standoff over the Biden administration's opposition to Israel invading the southern Gazan city Rafah, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News.

This, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week canceled a visit by an Israeli delegation in protest of the U.S. not blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

PHOTO: Tents housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, Mar. 30, 2024.
Tents housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, Mar. 30, 2024.
Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

At the time, the White House said it was "disappointed" by Israel's decision to cancel. The White House has said President Joe Biden warned Netanyahu an invasion would be a "mistake," citing the risk of high civilian casualties and arguing there is an alternative. In what was seen as a direct rebuke of Biden -- highlighting escalating tensions -- Netanyahu has vowed an incursion to root out elements of Hamas would happen despite U.S. concerns.

PHOTO: Biden Netanyahu
This combination photo shows President Joe Biden, March 8, 2024, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 28, 2023.
AP

Monday's virtual meeting was first reported by Axios.

When asked by reporters at Monday's White House briefing why the timeline and format of the meeting had changed, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pointed to what she said was the urgency of the negotiations, saying that it is "important that it happened as quickly as it did, even though it's virtual."

"The meeting is happening virtually because we understand and obviously, you all understand how important it is to have this conversation," she said. "We've been very clear about our concerns, about a military operation into Rafah."

She said the U.S. side was led by national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also took part. The Israeli side was represented by national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Minster for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer.

PHOTO: Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli raids, take shelter near the border with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Mar. 30, 2024.
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli raids, take shelter near the border with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Mar. 30, 2024.
Haitham Imad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The White House put out a statement after the talks ended calling them "constructive."

"Both sides were represented by experts and senior officials from across their respective inter-agencies," the statement said. "The two sides over the course of two hours had a constructive engagement on Rafah. They agreed that they share the objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah."

But it made it clear deep differences remain -- to be addressed at an in-person follow-up meeting "as early as next week."

"The U.S. side expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah," the statement continued. "The Israeli side agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow up discussions between experts," it said, to be overseen by what was called Strategic Consultative Group.

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