In call with Netanyahu, Biden reiterates his ‘clear position’ regarding Israel op in Rafah; they review hostage talks

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

View of the Erez Crossing at the Israeli border with Gaza, January 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
File: View of the Erez Crossing at the Israeli border with Gaza, January 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Israel’s opening of additional crossings into northern Gaza later this week to allow more aid into the Strip, the White House says.

The referenced crossings appear to be the Karni and Erez crossings that Israel plans to fully open in addition to Gate 96 into northern Gaza.

The opening of additional crossings is seen as essential to flooding Gaza with aid amid concerns of possible famine.

It will also be critical if Israel goes ahead with plans to launch a major invasion of Rafah because that would likely cut off the current humanitarian hub located there from the rest of Gaza.

The White House readout says the two leaders discussed a potential Israeli offensive in Rafah and that Biden “reiterated his clear position.”

The readout doesn’t elaborate further but the US has said it cannot support any operation that doesn’t ensure the full protection of the over one million Palestinians sheltering in the southernmost Gaza city and doesn’t believe that Israel will be able to safely evacuate and care for that many civilians. At other times, US officials have expressed their opposition to a major Rafah operation without making any qualifications.

Palestinians walk in a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip by the border with Egypt on April 28, 2024. (AFP)

Regarding recent improvements in the flow of aid into Gaza, Biden on the call “stressed the need for this progress to be sustained and enhanced in full coordination with humanitarian organizations.”

This has been a sticking point between the sides throughout the war, particularly since an Israeli airstrike killed seven humanitarian workers from the World Central Kitchen. Israel has since boosted some of its deconfliction mechanisms, and Biden on the call recognized recent increases in the amount of aid going into Gaza, but the US has insisted that Jerusalem must continue doing more.

The two leaders also discussed the ongoing hostage negotiations as the sides await Hamas’s response to the latest hostage deal proposal, which is supposed to come in the coming days.

Biden highlighted the joint statement he organized last week with the leaders of 17 other countries demanding Hamas immediately release the remaining 133 hostages it is holding in Gaza in what would allow for an immediate ceasefire and relief for civilians in the Strip, the White House says.

Biden reiterated his “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security, which was on display during the jointly thwarted Iranian missile and drone attack earlier this month, the US readout says.

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