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Biden urges Netanyahu to shield Rafah civilians in an attack

Gwen Ackerman and Akayla Gardner, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

President Joe Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shield civilians in Gaza from an Israeli military operation in the southern city of Rafah, saying it shouldn’t proceed without a “credible and executable plan” for their safety and support.

The White House readout after a phone call between Biden and the Israeli leader followed pledges by Netanyahu in two U.S. television interviews earlier Sunday that Israel will have a plan, including directing civilians northward in the Gaza Strip to get them out of harm’s way.

“We are working out a detailed plan to do so,” Netanyahu said Sunday on ABC’s "This Week." At the same time, he said Israel will go after remaining battalions of Hamas in Rafah, which sits on the border Egypt. More than 1 million Palestinians are taking shelter in Rafah, many after seeking refuge from Israeli bombardment in the north.

“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, lose the war, keep Hamas there,” Netanyahu said. “We are not going to let Hamas emerge victorious. And if we leave, it’ll be a tremendous victory for the Iran terror axis.”

Biden last week criticized the extent of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, calling it “over the top” and escalating his criticism of Netanyahu after the Israeli leader previewed plans for ground forces to enter Rafah.

“I appreciate President Biden’s support for Israel since the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu told ABC. “I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but put yourself in Israel’s shoes.”

 

Sunday’s discussion between Biden and Netanyahu primarily focused on ongoing negotiations to secure a hostage deal with Hamas, according to a senior administration official.

A framework for the hostage deal is mostly in place with partners in the Middle East, the official said, though gaps remain in negotiations with Hamas. If an agreement is reached, it would reinstate a humanitarian pause to allow aid to flow into the Gaza Strip and hostages to leave the area.

Biden also discussed immediate efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance, including a shipment of American-procured flour that could feed about 1.4 million Palestinians for the next six months, according to the official, who noted there are still logistical challenges to its arrival.

Egypt and other Arab countries as well as European nations such as Germany have raised serious concern about an Israeli ground assault on Rafah. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said people in the town “have absolutely no idea where to go.”

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