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Middle East conflict live updates: U.S. defense secretary urges Israel to abandon plan for Rafah offensive

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Israel to abandon military plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where the majority of Palestinians have crowded to evade the conflict. “The number of civilian casualties is far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin told Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Washington, stressing that the protection of civilian lives was a “moral necessity and a strategic imperative.”

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