Biden warns Netanyahu against launching a major attack on Rafah

Washington (AFP) – Pres Joe Biden On Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister urgently warned Benjamin Netanyahu Against launching an attack on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, as the division between the two leaders continues to widen with the increasing number of Palestinian deaths.

The call took place between Biden and Netanyahu in Israel It looks like it’s getting closer to a major military operation to root out Hamas militants in Rafah — something that Biden and his top aides have repeatedly told Israeli officials will only lead to more death and worsening despair in the war-torn region.

Both leaders face mounting public pressure – Biden from campus protests and Netanyahu from the families of some Israeli hostages – to reach a ceasefire agreement.

“The president does not want to see operations in Rafah endanger more than a million people seeking refuge there,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

The White House described the conversation between the two leaders, which lasted 30 minutes, as “constructive.” However, administration officials’ concerns have grown particularly high, as Israel on Monday ordered the evacuation of about 100,000 Palestinians from Rafah and began carrying out “targeted” strikes in the eastern part of the city.

Latest | The Israeli army controls the Gaza Strip from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt

FILE - President Joe Biden stands with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., after he spoke about reducing health care costs in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiffelbein )

White House officials had been carefully monitoring the extensive Israeli action in Rafah with deep concern, but did not believe it rose to the level of the large-scale attack that Netanyahu was threatening, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking who was not authorized to comment publicly.

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More than 34,000 Palestinians were killed in the war that began after Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people. About 250 people were also taken hostage in the brazen attack.

At the same time, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating across vast areas of Gaza. The director of the United Nations World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said on Sunday that the northern Gaza Strip had been entered “Total famine” After nearly seven months war.

Prior to the leaders’ call, Israel announced that it had ordered the Palestinians to begin the evacuation from Rafah. Shortly after the order was issued, Hamas said in a statement that it had accepted the Egyptian-Qatari proposal for a ceasefire.

Israeli army spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Israel will continue its operations in Gaza while officials deliberate on the ceasefire proposal that Hamas agreed to. The Israeli war cabinet voted unanimously to approve the military operation in Rafah, but said it would continue ceasefire efforts.

The new targeted strikes in eastern Rafah appear aimed at maintaining pressure on Hamas as the talks continue.

Kirby said Biden was briefed on Hamas’ response that it would accept the hostage deal. CIA Director William Burns, who was in Qatar for hostage talks with regional officials, was discussing the Hamas statement with allies in the region. Kirby refused to discuss the limits of what Hamas says it has agreed to.

“Bill Burns is looking at that response. He’s talking to the Israelis about this,” Kirby told reporters. “And we’ll see where this goes. Hopefully, this will lead to the release of these hostages for real soon.

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In recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials said a ceasefire would take place A series of stages During which Hamas will release the hostages it holds in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Biden also told Netanyahu that he still believes reaching a ceasefire with Hamas is the best way to protect the lives of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza, officials said. Israel says Hamas is holding about 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others in Gaza. The leaders’ call came before Hamas announced that it had accepted the ceasefire proposal.

After his call with Netanyahu, Biden hosted Jordanian King Abdullah II for a private lunch meeting at the White House for talks on the war and hostage talks. The Jordanian Embassy in Washington said in a post on the social media site

On Sunday, Netanyahu rejected international pressure to stop the war in Gaza In a fiery speech Marking the country’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, declaring that “if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

He said in English: “I say to world leaders: No amount of pressure or any decision from any international forum will prevent Israel from defending itself.” “It won’t happen again now.”

In their phone call, Netanyahu told Biden that he would ensure that the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel remained open for the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the White House.

Israeli officials last week He briefed Biden administration officials on the evacuation plan Palestinian civilians ahead of a possible operation, according to American officials familiar with the matter.

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Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had previously emphasized with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant that Israel needed a “credible plan” to evacuate these civilians and preserve humanitarian aid. Ryder said Austin had seen “concepts” from the Israelis about their plan for an operation in Rafah, “but nothing is detailed at this stage.”


Associated Press writers Tara Cobb in Washington and Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

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