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Israel agrees to U.S. talks on Rafah

WASHINGTON — The United States and Israel agreed to hold an in-person meeting to discuss their dispute over an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped an earlier visit amid increasingly sour ties.

The meeting, which could take place as early as next week, was announced in a carefully worded readout from a video call of the two sides’ so-called Strategic Consultative Group.

It said the United States “expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah,” while Israel “agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow-up discussions between experts.”

That appeared to mark a concession, however small, by Netanyahu, who has so far publicly dismissed U.S. warnings about his plans for a full-scale attack on Rafah as part of his forces’ bid to root out Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in southern Israel.

Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

The U.S. has urged Israel to protect the more than 1 million displaced Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, with Biden calling an invasion a “red line” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning an attack would worsen the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has insisted his forces will go ahead once they come up with a plan to remove civilians from the area.

The U.S. team that attended Monday’s virtual meeting was led by national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Blinken. Israel was represented by national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Minster for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer.

The meeting was initially meant to take place in person, but Netanyahu told his delegation not to travel to Washington after the U.S. declined to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

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