Biden says 'too many' of those killed in Gaza are civilians

Jordan king says Oct. 7 attack unacceptable to Muslims, calls for ‘lasting’ ceasefire

Speaking alongside Biden, Abdullah II says international community must step up efforts to reach ‘comprehensive peace’; US president touts deal in works for pause in fighting

Jordan's King Abdullah II, accompanied by President Joe Biden, right, speaks in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jordan's King Abdullah II, accompanied by President Joe Biden, right, speaks in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jordan’s King Abdullah criticized Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught in southern Israel, declaring that the massacre should be unacceptable to all Muslims, while also calling for a “lasting” ceasefire that would end the war in Gaza triggered by the unprecedented attack.

Speaking in English alongside US President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday, Abdullah said “all attacks against innocent civilians, women and children, including those of October 7, cannot be accepted by any Muslim. As I have previously stressed, we must make sure the horrors of the past few months since October 7, are never repeated, nor accepted by any human being.”

“We must together, along with Arab partners and the international community, step up efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and immediately start working to create a political horizon that leads to a just and comprehensive peace,” on the pre-1967 lines, he said.

“This is the only solution that will guarantee peace and security for the Palestinians and the Israelis as well as the entire region.”

Monday’s sit-down was Biden and Abdullah’s first face-to-face meeting since the October 7 attack, when Hamas-led terrorists slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel and abducted 253 to Gaza, with the US president hailing his fellow head of state as a key player in a turbulent Middle East.

Biden was meant to travel to Jordan for talks with Abdullah when he visited Israel days after the October 7 attack, but the meeting was canceled after an explosion at a Gaza hospital falsely blamed on Israel caused anger across the Arab world.

US President Joe Biden and King Abdullah II of Jordan arrive to speak to the press as looks on in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2024. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

Washington was the first stop of a tour by the Jordanian king that will also take in Canada, France and Germany, amid mounting international efforts for a deal to pause fighting in Gaza and free hostages held there by Hamas.

Abdullah began his post-White House meeting remarks by warning against Israel’s plans to push into the southernmost Gazan city of Rafah, the last Hamas stronghold in the enclave, and a crucial goal in the war as it serves as a smuggling haven for Palestinian terror groups.

Israel has said its Rafah operation is key to dismantling Hamas’s remaining battalions. Washington, too, has been opposed to the operation without a “credible” plan to protect over a million Palestinians sheltering in the city, having been pushed south by Israel’s military offensive in the north and center.

Where they will be able to evacuate remains unclear as Israel is opposed to allowing Palestinians to return to the north, which has been largely destroyed, and Egypt is refusing to accept refugees due to fears that Israel will not allow them back into Gaza after the war.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that civilians will be allowed to evacuate first.

“We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah,” said Abdullah. “It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started. We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end,” Abdullah said.

“The potential threat of Palestinian displacement beyond the borders of Gaza and the West Bank is something we view with extreme concern and cannot be allowed,” he added.

He also turned to the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, expressing alarm over the roughly 400 Palestinians killed in those areas since October 7.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II speaks as President Joe Biden listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The vast majority of those Palestinians were killed in clashes or attacks on IDF troops, though some died during altercations with settlers.

“Continued escalations by extremist settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem’s holy sites and the expansion of illegal settlements will unleash chaos on the entire region,” the Hashemite leader warned, claiming that “the vast majority of Muslim worshippers are not being allowed to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque and that Christian churches have also voiced concerns about increasing and unprecedented restrictions and threats.”

“It is also important to stress that the separation of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be accepted,” he said, calling for an end to Israel’s military control over those areas. “Military and security solutions are not the answer. They can never bring peace.”

He also urged continued support for the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, amid allegations that 12 employees participated in the October 7 terror onslaught. The United States was among the first to freeze funding to the organization.

“No other UN agency can do what UNRWA is doing, helping the people of Gaza through this humanitarian catastrophe,” Abdullah said.

“Its work in other areas of operation, especially in Jordan, where 2.3 million are registered is also vital,” the Hashemite leader said. “It is imperative that UNRWA continues to receive the support it needs to carry out its mandate.”

This picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli army on February 8, 2024, shows Israeli soldiers inside an evacuated compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Biden: No forced displacement

Speaking after Abdullah, Biden reiterated that no Israeli military operation should move forward in Rafah “without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support” for the over one million people sheltering there.

“We’ve also been clear from the start that we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” Biden reiterated.

Earlier Monday, White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby stressed that the US “never said that they can’t go into Rafah to remove Hamas. Hamas remains a viable threat to the Israeli people. And the Israelis and the IDF, absolutely, are going to continue operations against their leadership and their infrastructure, as they should. We don’t want to see another October 7th.”

Rather, Kirby stressed, “What we’ve said is we don’t believe that it’s advisable to go in in a major way in Rafah without a proper, executable, effective, and credible plan for the safety of the more than a million Palestinians that are taking refuge in Rafah. They’ve left the north, and they certainly went south out of Khan Yunis to try to get out of the fighting. So, Israel has an obligation to make sure that they can protect them.”

Biden said the US is working to ensure that the Rafah and Kerem Shalom Crossings remain open for humanitarian aid and to get additional crossings open.

Last week, the US called for the Erez Crossing to be opened by Israel in order to allow more direct entry of aid ton northern Gaza. Biden also stresses the need for aid workers to be able to safely deliver the assistance throughout Gaza once it enters the Strip, amid repeated concerns from aid agencies that deconfliction mechanisms the IDF has in place are insufficient, leading to many strikes on aid convoys.

Biden also hailed Jordan’s efforts to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, pointing to the airdrops the king himself has joined.

US President Joe Biden arrives with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“We’re working to create the conditions for lasting peace… with Israeli security guarantees and Palestinian aspirations for their own state fulfilled. That’s the only path that guarantees Israel’s security for the long term,” Biden said.

“To achieve it, the Palestinians must also seize the opportunity. The Palestinian Authority must urgently reform so it can effectively deliver for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza,” Biden continued.

“Once Hamas control of Gaza is over. [The PA] must prepare to build a state that accepts peace, does not harbor terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

“We’ve started to integrate the region, to bring about peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors, including [a future] Palestinian state. That effort was already underway before October 7 attacks. It’s even more urgent today,” Biden said.

The US president began by reiterating that October 7 “was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

He noted that 134 hostages still remain in Gaza and that their families “don’t know how many are still alive.”

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Biden said the US shares Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas, whose terrorists hide in tunnels beneath civilian infrastructure, “including schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods.”

He also acknowledged that the Palestinian people “have also suffered unimaginable pain and loss.”

“Too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians, including thousands of children,” Biden continued. “Hundreds of thousands have no access to food, water other basic services. Many families have lost not just one but many relatives and cannot mourn for them, Even bury them as it is not safe to do so. It’s heartbreaking.”

More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7.

Biden said he was working “to find the means to bring all the hostages home, to ease the humanitarian crisis, to end the terror threat and to bring peace to Gaza and Israel through a two-state solution.”

Biden highlighted the hostage deal framework he helped craft with Egyptian and Qatari mediators that would see a humanitarian pause of at least six weeks, “which we could then [use] to build something more enduring.”

He said he has encouraged Israeli leaders “to keep working to achieve the deal” after Netanyahu characterized Hamas’s response to the framework as “delusional.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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