Aid groups warn of catastrophic fallout as Rafah fight looms, and U.S. treads carefully

The Biden administration is walking a diplomatic tightrope, trying to signal to Israel that it doesn't have a free hand to attack Gaza's Rafah -- the lone part of the strip it has yet to hit -- all while not appearing to antagonize an important regional ally amid a budding conflict with Iran.

The result, analysts say, is a policy of " sitting hard " on Israel, while granting it wiggle room to do as it pleases. This comes even as the White House asserts that a potential assault on Rafah would be a " game-changer " that it wants to prevent.

The uncertainty has left millions of Palestinians in Rafah bracing for an Israeli ground invasion, amid constant anxiety due to airstrikes and bombardment.

This comes as aid groups say they are being hamstrung by a lack of clarity about the Biden administration's strategy to protect Palestinians and scale up humanitarian relief in Gaza while enabling Israelis to defend themselves against Iran.

Israel remains determined to pursue Hamas in Rafah beyond the attacks it has already launched on the town -- most recently an airstrike on April 18 that killed 10 members of a family, including five children.

The Biden administration, for its part, has pinned its hopes on the Palestinian Authority and argues it can be reformed. But critics say this track record -- and Biden's prioritization of backing Israel -- suggests he is unwilling to use U.S. leverage to prevent Israeli violations of human rights and other destabilizing actions.

At the same time, Biden may prove especially deferential to Netanyahu as the two countries move closer to conflict.

This story was written by Zach Dorfman, a reporter for HuffPost covering Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.

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