While Benjamin Netanyahu asked his ground troops to prepare to enter to Rafah, the United States made it known that it considers Israel’s response against Hamas “over the top,” without, however, giving up hope as to the outcome of a diplomatic consensus.

Israel conducted fresh strikes on southern Gaza’s overcrowded border town of Rafah on Friday, where more than a million displaced Palestinians sought shelter, with key backer the United States warning of a looming “disaster.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, the last major town in the Gaza Strip that Israeli ground troops have yet to enter.

A State Department spokesman said on Thursday that the United States did not support an Israeli operation in Rafah, with President Joe Biden later telling reporters that he considered Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas to be “over the top.”

The Israeli military stepped up its air strikes on Rafah on Thursday, with witnesses reporting more overnight.

The territory’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said early on Friday that more than 100 people were killed during the night, including at least eight in Rafah.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said that news of the coming push into the city was “alarming,” and warned that it “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare.”

State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said that Washington had “yet to see any evidence of serious planning” for a Rafah ground operation.

Noting that Rafah was also a crucial entry point for humanitarian aid, he added that such an assault was “not something we’d support.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed Washington’s concerns to Netanyahu directly during talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem, Patel said.

‘Space for Agreement to Be Reached”

UN rights chief Volker Turk charged that Israel was committing a “war crime” with its reported destruction of buildings to create a “buffer zone” along the border inside Gaza.

Israel’s “extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime,” he said in a statement.

Despite a recent blitz of diplomatic efforts aimed at brokering a truce, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up his fifth crisis tour of the Middle East since the war started without securing a pause in fighting.

On the ceasefire talks, Blinken insisted that he still saw “space for agreement to be reached” to halt the fighting and bring home Israeli hostages, even after Netanyahu rejected what he labelled Hamas’ “bizarre demands.”

Egypt was set to host new talks with Qatari and Hamas negotiators in hopes of achieving “calm” in Gaza and a prisoner-hostage exchange, an Egyptian official said.

A Gaza-based Palestinian official close to the militant group later told AFP that they expected negotiations to be “difficult,” but said that Hamas was “keen to reach a ceasefire.”

In Riyadh, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan reiterated calls for an “immediate and complete ceasefire,” as well as “irreversible” steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state during talks on the war in Gaza, Saudi state media reported on Friday.

Iranian Foreign Minister to Visit Lebanon

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, whose country backs groups aligned against Israel, is expected to travel to Lebanon on Friday.

The Iran-backed axis, which includes Hamas, stepped up attacks around the Middle East, including in Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants fired a barrage of rockets towards Israel on Thursday.

American forces struck “four Houthi unmanned surface vessels (USV) and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported.

A US air strike in Iraq on Wednesday killed a senior commander from a pro-Iran armed group who CENTCOM said was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces.”

The strike came after Washington launched a wave of attacks last week on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria following the killing of three US troops in neighboring Jordan.

With AFP