Netanyahu’s office denies report Biden wouldn’t take phone call after Gaza aid chaos

Calling unsourced report ‘fake news,’ Prime Minister’s Office says neither side asked for a conversation; Gantz in Washington for talks with VP Harris

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Left: US President Joe Biden at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, North Carolina, March 28, 2023. (AP/Carolyn Kaster); Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool photo via AP)
Left: US President Joe Biden at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, North Carolina, March 28, 2023. (AP/Carolyn Kaster); Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool photo via AP)

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied on Monday an unsourced report in Sky News Arabia that US President Joe Biden had refused to accept a phone call from the Israeli leader after the deadly Gaza City melee late last week, telling The Times of Israel that it was “fake news.”

Israel, said the Prime Minister’s Office, “did not request a phone call from Biden after the incident, and the Americans, who in any case do not blame Israel for the incident, did not request a phone call with the prime minister.”

Dozens of Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded while swarming aid trucks early Thursday morning in the northern Gaza Strip.

The day after, the IDF promised an exhaustive investigation into the deaths in the incident, which has drawn condemnations and calls for an international inquiry.

Hamas accused Israeli troops of shooting at the crowd of thousands, while the IDF says many of the casualties were trampled in a chaotic crush for the food aid, and that its troops fired only at a few individuals who rushed toward them in a threatening manner.

There have been multiple reports of growing White House frustration with Netanyahu.

Palestinians gather in a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (AFP)

Biden said last week that Israel was going to lose international support if it maintains its “incredibly conservative government.”

Speaking on Sunday in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — where state troopers beat US civil rights marchers nearly six decades ago — US Vice President Kamala Harris bluntly called out Israel for not doing enough to ease the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and called for an extended pause in hostilities to be implemented immediately.

The US military on Saturday carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza and aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave as Israel pressed on with its offensive.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz was in Washington for talks with senior officials on Monday, reportedly infuriating Netanyahu, who did not authorize the trip.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at an event in Selma, Alabama, on March 3, 2024. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Among those Gantz will meet are Harris, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Republican and Democratic members of US Congress, his office said in a statement Saturday.

Details of the trip, and an allegedly tense phone conversation between Netanyahu and Gantz about the visit, were first reported by the Ynet outlet.

Netanyahu was said to have been unaware of the visit until Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, called him on Friday to let him know of his plans and to discuss what messages to convey to the Americans.

A source close to Netanyahu said the premier “made it clear to Minister Gantz that the State of Israel only has one prime minister,” Ynet reported.

A former military chief and defense minister, Gantz is Netanyahu’s main political rival in opinion polls. Gantz brought his National Unity party into the government after the October 7 attack by Palestinian terror group Hamas that triggered the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-led shock attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid horrific atrocities including rape, torture, and mutilation. Terrorists also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Israel responded with a military campaign to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group, and free the hostages, over half of whom are still in captivity, among them over two dozen dead.

Minister Benny Gantz joins a march by the families of hostages held in Gaza toward Jerusalem on March 1, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins March 10. A proposed framework on the table includes the release of about 40 hostages taken on October 7, among them women, children, elderly and ill abductees and female soldiers in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting and the release of Palestinian security prisoners. Israel has mostly accepted the framework and has slammed Hamas for its “delusional” demands that are holding up an agreement.

Israel is poised for a major offensive in the city of Rafah, the last major Hamas stronghold that has not yet been assaulted by Israel Defense Forces ground operation in Gaza. The city’s population has swollen with over a million Gazans who fled from fighting in other areas of the Palestinian enclave, raising international concerns for the safety of civilians if the IDF offensive goes ahead. The US has demanded that Israel ensure evacuation routes to safe areas for civilians.

A White House official said Harris “will express her concern over the safety of the as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah” in the meeting with Gantz, adding that Israel also had a “right to defend itself in the face of continued Hamas terrorist threats.”

International pressure for a ceasefire has grown as the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas operatives in addition to another 1,000 killed inside Israel on October 7. Since the start of a ground offensive in Gaza in late October, 245 IDF soldiers have been killed in the fighting.

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