Biden Cautions Netanyahu on Ground Offensive in Southern Gaza

By John Mercury February 13, 2024

President Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Sunday that a ground offensive in southern Gaza should not proceed without a plan to protect the more than 1.4 million Palestinians clustered there, the latest sign of frustration by the White House over rising civilian deaths from Israel’s military assault.

During the call 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 cease-fire and the release of Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.

Last week, Mr. Netanyahu bluntly rejected as “ludicrous” a response from Hamas in the negotiations that called for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of more than 100 Israeli hostages in Gaza.

But both American and Israeli officials have said subsequently that there is still room for compromise in the negotiations. A senior administration official who spoke about Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu’s call on the condition of anonymity expressed optimism about the state of the talks, adding that they would continue over the next week to address “significant gaps” between the two sides.

“The president emphasized the need to capitalize on progress made in the negotiations to secure the release of all hostages as soon as possible,” according to the White House statement. “He also called for urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians.”

Mr. Biden has strongly supported Israel’s decision to retaliate for the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that killed an estimated 1,200 people. But as the White House faces rising pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party over the administration’s support of Israel’s military, Mr. Biden’s criticism has grown increasingly blunt. On Thursday, he said Israel’s military operations in Gaza were “over the top.”

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