President Biden said Monday that Israel should not launch a major ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah without a “credible plan” to protect more than a million people sheltering there.
Mr. Biden spoke after meeting at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key figure in the campaign for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
“Many people have been displaced there – displaced repeatedly, fleeing violence to the north, and now they are crowded together in Rafah, exposed and vulnerable,” Mr. Biden said during an appearance with King Abdullah . “They must be protected.”
The visit comes as King Abdullah sought to build international support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza that would permanently end the fighting.
Mr. Biden rejected the idea of a blanket ceasefire, saying Israel has the right to defend itself. But he called for a pause in the fighting that could allow the release of hostages held by Hamas and something “more lasting.”
A large portion of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian descent, putting the country – a close US ally that has a peace treaty with Israel – in an awkward position as it deals with the aftermath of the war.
King Abdullah said an Israeli invasion of Rafah “would certainly produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The situation is already unbearable for more than a million people who have been pushed back to Rafah since the start of the war,” King Abdullah said. “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end.
Mr. Biden forcefully condemned the rising death toll in Gaza, where health officials say more than 28,000 people have been killed since the war began.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Mr. Biden said of the deaths. “Every innocent life in Gaza is a tragedy. »
While Mr. Biden’s criticism of the war has become more brutal in the four months since the Oct. 7 attack, the United States has not indicated it plans policy changes major ones, such as imposing conditions on military aid to Israel.
On Monday, when asked whether Israel would face any consequences for how it conducts its next military campaign, John F. Kirby, the White House spokesman, said he would not engage in in “hypotheses”.
He said the United States was working to influence how Israel fought its war.
“There have been times and there are still times where we had the opportunity and took the opportunity to shape their thinking and help influence the way in which they conducted some of these operations,” he said. he declared. “And that remains today.”
Mr Biden and King Abdullah have said the conflict should end with a two-state solution.
“I say this as a long-time supporter of Israel,” Mr. Biden said. “This is the only path that guarantees Israel’s security in the long term.”
King Abdullah said “this is the only solution that will guarantee peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the entire region.”
Egypt and Qatar, acting as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, have led negotiations aimed at ending the fighting and freeing hostages held in Gaza. The Biden administration has been actively involved in these negotiations, working publicly and behind the scenes to try to advance a ceasefire agreement.
On Monday, Mr. Biden said the United States was working on a hostage deal with Israel and Hamas that could result in a pause of at least six weeks that could “take the time to build something more lasting.”
CIA Director William J. Burns was scheduled to travel to Cairo on Tuesday for hostage discussions, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity about the discussions.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected a Hamas proposal last week, Israeli officials indicated their government was still open to negotiation. The mere fact that more talks are taking place in Cairo this week is seen as a positive sign.
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