President Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that the ground offensive in southern Gaza should not continue without a plan to protect the more than 1.4 million Palestinians gathered there, the latest sign of White House frustration over the mounting civilian death toll. from the Israeli military attack.
During the talks on Sunday, according to a description from the White House, the two leaders also discussed ongoing negotiations with Hamas to release Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Last week, Mr. Netanyahu openly dismissed as “ridiculous” Hamas’s response to the talks, which called for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of more than 100 Israeli hostages in Gaza.
But both US and Israeli officials subsequently said there was still room for compromise in the talks. A senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu expressed optimism about the state of the talks, adding that they would continue over the next week to address a “significant gap” between the two sides.
“The President emphasized the need to use the progress made in the negotiations to ensure the release of all hostages as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement. “He also called for immediate and concrete steps to increase the flow and consistency of humanitarian aid to innocent Palestinian civilians.”
Mr Biden strongly supported Israel’s decision to retaliate for the October 7 Hamas terror attack that killed around 1,200 people. But as the White House faces increasing pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party over the administration’s support for Israel’s military, Biden’s criticisms have grown sharper. He said on Thursday that Israel’s military operations in Gaza were “too much”.
The comments were another sign of growing frustration in the White House with Mr Netanyahu over the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, where more than 27,000 people have been killed, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run strip. Mr Netanyahu, who is focused on appealing to the far-right flank of his coalition to retain power, also rejected the Biden administration’s call for a two-state solution after the war.
The White House has repeatedly said in recent days that it does not support the likely invasion of Mr. Netanyahu at Rafah, which is located on the border with Egypt. More than half of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are now in the city, many displaced after the Israeli army told them to flee south to escape the war in the north.
On Sunday, Mr. Biden “reaffirmed his position that the military operation in Rafah should not continue without a credible and workable plan to ensure the safety and support of the more than one million people there,” the White House said.
In an interview with ABC News that aired Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said, without giving details, that Israel was “working out a detailed plan” to relocate Gazans north of Rafah. Egypt has already said it will not accept Palestinians who try to cross the border.
Mr. Biden is expected to discuss the war again on Monday when he hosts King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House.