Biden Tells Netanyahu US Gaza Policy May Change If Israel Doesn’t Address Humanitarian Concerns

President Joe Biden told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call on April 4 that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is “unacceptable,” saying that Israel needed to take action to address civilian harm or face a change in U.S. policy.

It was the first time the two leaders had spoken since an airstrike killed seven members of a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, World Central Kitchen, in Gaza on April 1, including one dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada.

In a White House readout of the call, President Biden called the strikes and humanitarian situation in Gaza “unacceptable.”

The president also “made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps” to address the safety of aid workers, the harm brought upon civilians, and humanitarian suffering, according to the readout. He told the prime minister that U.S. policy on Gaza would be determined by the administration’s assessment of Israel’s “immediate action on these steps.”

The president underscored the White House position that an immediate ceasefire is essential to improving the humanitarian situation and protecting innocent civilians, and he urged Mr. Netanyahu to negotiate a deal to bring the remaining hostages from the attack on Oct. 7, 2023, home.

The White House also noted that President Biden spoke with Mr. Netanyahu about Iran’s public threats against Israel, and he made clear that the U.S. strongly supports Israel amid those threats.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told press that the primary focus of the conversation was to address the need to get a temporary ceasefire in place to get hostages out and humanitarian assistance in. “They need to see that steps are being taken to learn from this strike and to make changes in the way civilian harm is mitigated from an operational perspective,” he said.

During the press briefing, Mr. Kirby addressed questions on whether or not this was an ultimatum in terms of providing support to Israel, and he did not address the label.

“We want to see concrete steps,” he said, “We want to see more crossings open up. We want to see more trucks getting into Gaza, particularly from Jordan.”

We want to see “tangible steps” towards the mitigation of civilian harm, he added, particularly to humanitarian aid workers.

Mr. Kirby also added that the Biden administration wants to see that Israel has moved forward “on proper steps to deconflict” as aid workers move around.

The administration expects to see some announcement from Israel “in the coming hours, and days.”

“I am outraged and heartbroken by the deaths of seven humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen, including one American, in Gaza yesterday,” the president said in an official statement released on April 2. “They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war. They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy.”

The call between the two leaders also followed a call between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday, during which the American shared his frustration and demanded that a swift investigation be done.

An initial inquiry found that the strike was the result of “misidentification” of a target, according to Israeli military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Mr. Gallant expressed sorrow for the incident and said that a thorough and transparent investigation was underway and that the findings would be shared with Israel’s partners. He also said that he remained committed to coordinating with partner countries and organizations to provide humanitarian aid as his nation continues its offensive against Hamas.

Mr. Gallant shared his appreciation for the U.S. and Mr. Austin’s support and partnership.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reaffirmed that the administration was going to let the Israeli government handle the investigation.

“We’re going to let … the Israeli government do their investigation and see where that takes us,” she said. “Don’t want to get ahead of that. They’re doing an investigation.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre stressed the need for a comprehensive investigation and said that the White House wants to make sure “it has accountability.”

She added, “We want it to be swift, obviously, and we want it to be public.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and minister for strategic affairs Ron Dermer on April 1 to discuss Israel’s invasion of Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

“The two sides over the course of two hours had a constructive engagement on Rafah.  They agreed that they share the objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah,” the White House said in a statement.

The meeting was conducted virtually due to Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to cancel a trip to Washington after the U.S. decided not to veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution calling for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. The U.S. abstained from the resolution because it did not explicitly condemn Hamas for its attack on Oct. 7, 2023.

“We’re very disappointed that they won’t be coming to Washington D.C. to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to going in on the ground in Rafah,” said White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

Rafah was not a focus of the call, and Mr. Kirby said he looked forward to U.S. leadership having another conversation, hopefully in person, on a ground operation in the border city. However, he said that the administration’s concern is chiefly about the way in which Israel conducts itself.

“One of the big concerns about a ground operation in Rafah that we’ve expressed is the damage it could do,” he said “The death and destruction it could render to the 1.5 million Gazans that are seeking refuge here.”

The White House said it continues to support a temporary cease-fire to facilitate the exchange of hostages while also supporting Israel with arms and ammunition.

Mr. Kirby said that support for Israel remains “ironclad,” despite U.S. demands to change how it is fighting against Hamas.

“They face a range of threats, and the United States isn’t going to walk away from helping Israel defend itself,” he said. “That said, you can say all that, and you can act on that. And you can believe that, and the President does and still believes that the manner in which they’re defending themselves against the Hamas needs to change. And that is the conversation that we had today, but both things are true.”

Andrew Thornebrooke, Emel Akan, Aldgra Fredly, and Jackson Richman contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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