President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Israeli forces have not yet launched an anticipated ground invasion on Rafah — a red-line move that he’d previously said would halt the U.S. supply of weapons to Israel. But as of Thursday, media reports and humanitarians suggest that a ground assault on Rafah had already begun.

In an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday night, Biden publicly admitted for the first time that Israel has used U.S. weapons to kill Palestinian civilians. The president also relayed a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: The U.S. will withhold shipments of offensive weapons to Israel if the military launches a full-scale ground invasion into Rafah that causes major civilian harm.

“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,” Biden told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

“They haven’t gone into the population centers,” he added, of Israel’s movements.

But media reports dispute the Biden administration’s characterization of Israeli actions in Rafah as limited.

Amid the destruction caused by Israel’s Gaza offensive, 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have crowded into Rafah. Earlier this week, Israel dropped flyers ordering more than 100,000 Palestinians in the eastern part of the city to evacuate and flee to Khan Younis or Al-Mawasi — towns that do not have the infrastructure to support more refugees.

Biden, who spoke to Netanyahu on Monday, said that he “made it clear” to the prime minister and his cabinet that Israel will not receive “our support if in fact they go on these population centers.”

Satellite images that CNN obtained from Planet Labs show that Israel has expanded its assault on Rafah from airstrikes to a ground offensive as of this week. The images, spanning May 5 to May 7, suggest that some of the infrastructure has already been bulldozed, and show what appear to be areas for IDF vehicles to assemble.

Footage from Gaza freelance journalist Majdi Fathi posted on Instagram Wednesday show explosions in Rafah and men carrying severely injured children. Hospital records as of Wednesday afternoon showed that more than two dozen people were wounded after Israeli forces struck a part of central Rafah, according to Associated Press journalists on the ground.

“What we have been experiencing is mass destruction, lethal force being used on the ground against not only the eastern areas but also … in the middle and western parts [of Rafah],” Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Abu Azzoum said. Azzoum said the expanded attacks include on Al-Mawasi, the overcrowded city that Israel told refugees in Rafah to flee to.

According to the Planet Labs images, some IDF vehicles appear to have pushed more than a mile into Gaza from the border crossing into Egypt, which had served as Gaza’s biggest aid route until Israeli tanks seized it this week.

But “the truth is that the Israeli occupation forces have been operating in all of the city, while a ground invasion has started in the eastern side of it,” Motasem A Dalloul, a journalist with the pro-Palestine Middle East Monitor, posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Israeli fighters and artillery have been pounding all parts of the city, including the city centre.”

Scott Anderson, the deputy director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza, said the agency’s food rations will run out on Friday, according to Politico.

The fighting on the ground in Rafah “was pretty active today,” Anderson told the publication on Wednesday. “The other part of all this is, anywhere there’s a concentration of IDF — it becomes a target. So every crossing today was hit by something. There is a more robust IDF presence now. There’s two brigades, one’s a specialist in tunnels and the other one were the perpetrators of the [World Central Kitchen] incident. Those are the two brigades operating now and in south Rafah.”

Nine-year-old Palestinian boy Khalid Akl, suffering from hepatitis, lies on a stretcher in the corridor of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital while the Israeli army's bombardment of the Gaza Strip continues in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on May 8, 2024.
Nine-year-old Palestinian boy Khalid Akl, suffering from hepatitis, lies on a stretcher in the corridor of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital while the Israeli army’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip continues in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on May 8, 2024.

Baher Hamed Alnahhal/Anadolu via Getty Images

“There are children and elderly that are so starved that they can barely walk,” Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy from Save the Children, told the publication Middle East Eye. “These people cannot just relocate to another area, to so-called ‘safe zones.’ It is not possible.”

The White House last week put on hold a shipment of bombs to Israel out of concern for an invasion into Rafah.

HuffPost has reached out to the White House for comment.

Biden’s decision to draw a red line at a Rafah invasion, some seven months into the war, has drawn rebukes from both Republicans and progressives opposed to Israel’s offensive. Critics on the right have accused the president of abandoning the biggest U.S. ally in the Middle East Critics on the left say the president’s statement implies that Israel is permitted by the White House to continue bombing Rafah and blocking life-saving aid, as long as soldiers do not physically step foot into the city.

“Given rising domestic opposition to Biden’s Gaza policy, the U.S. wants a lower civilian casualty toll than Israel does,” Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle East studies at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera. “Objectively, what has transpired is a minor shift in U.S. support for Israeli policy in Gaza.”

“It has moved from 100% support to 99% support,” he continued. “Israel can still bomb Rafah with impunity. It can displace the 1.4 million people residing there. It just cannot do this with U.S.-made 2,000-pound bombs that Israel has used in other parts of Gaza.”


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