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Top diplomats warn of disaster and repercussions if Israel expands offensive

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 21, 2024   -  
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Evelyn Hockstein/AP

Gaza attack

Top diplomats from Egypt, Jordan and France met on Saturday in Cairo for talks.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in the Egyptian capital.

During the meeting the ministers discussed the Israel-Hamas war and Israel's looming offensive on the packed city of Rafah.

"We joined with the Jordanian and French sides in warning against the consequences of undertaking such an operation in light of the city’s overcrowding with more than one-and-a-half million displaced people," Shoukry told reporters in a joint briefing following the discussions.

Israel has promised to launch an offensive of Rafah, saying the city on the border with Egypt is the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s neighbours and key mediators have warned of disaster and repercussions if its military expands its offensive into the city where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed.

On Friday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel would return to the table for cease-fire talks with Hamas.

Friday’s announcement marks yet another attempt to reach a deal to pause the fighting in Gaza in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.

Efforts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to negotiate a cease-fire appear stalled as the war grinds through its sixth month.

Israel declared war in response to a bloody cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 250 others were taken hostage.

Israel responded with a campaign of airstrikes and a ground offensive that have left more than 32,000 Palestinians dead, according to local health authorities.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but say roughly two-thirds of the dead are women, children and teens.

Israel says over one-third of the dead are militants, though it has not provided evidence to support the claim, and it blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the group operates in residential areas.