Biden saya Israel’s military conduct in Gaza has been ‘over the top’

President Biden said Thursday that Israel's military campaign in Gaza was “over-the-top” in his harshest rebuke yet and said he hoped ongoing negotiations over the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in long term could lay the foundations for a change of direction. of the war.

The “conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been overblown,” Biden said. “I am pressing very hard now to end this hostage-related ceasefire. I have worked tirelessly on this deal… because I think if we can get the delay, the initial delay – I think we would be able to extend it in order to increase the chances that the fighting in Gaza will change. »

Biden, who has been reluctant to speak in detail about the suffering in Gaza, also spoke in the most visceral terms about the desperation in the enclave.

“I worked very hard to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Many innocent people are dying of starvation. A lot of innocent people are struggling and dying and it has to stop,” Biden said.

The comments mark a stunning turnaround for Biden, who has an emotional attachment to Israel and has largely refused to criticize the country, even as anger grows among left-wing parts of the Democratic base over the war in Gaza and its enormous toll civil. Israeli airstrikes and raids over the past four months have killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and created a humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated enclave of more than 2 million people.

The Israeli military campaign came in response to an October 7 attack by Hamas militants, in which they ransacked the Israel-Gaza border fence and murdered 1,200 Israelis, including many civilians, and took about 250 others as hostages. Biden twice bypassed Congress to send hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Israel, a move that angered some Senate Democrats.

The president has resisted pressure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, which polls show is supported by a majority of Democratic voters. But his unwavering support for Israel cost him politically, as young voters, people of color, Arab and Muslim Americans strongly disapproved of his handling of the war. Still, Congress is debating a foreign aid bill that includes $14 billion in aid to Israel, which passed a key threshold in the Senate on Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, a group of senior policy advisers traveled to Michigan, which has a large Arab-American and Muslim population, to meet with community members and elected officials to try to build support. The state is critical to Biden's path to a second term, but the president faces serious problems there, especially as many Arab American and Muslim voters mobilize to ensure that members of their community will not support Biden in November.

Biden and his aides are increasingly exasperated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly ignored U.S. calls to limit civilian casualties, end military operations in Gaza and allow more aid in the enclave, where hundreds of thousands of inhabitants risk starvation. and illness.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has publicly humiliated Biden despite hundreds of millions of dollars in arms transfers and unwavering support, even as global condemnation mounts. Netanyahu has become increasingly defiant about the prospect of a two-state solution – which Biden says must follow the end of the war – and this week rejected a deal that would see the release of some Israeli hostages in exchange a long-term break. in the fighting while Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region.

Netanyahu also angered US officials when he promised that the Israeli military campaign would continue in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to safety under the Israeli orders. On Thursday, White House spokesman John Kirby said any Israeli operation in Rafah under the current circumstances “would be a disaster for these people and we would not support it.”

Biden also issued a national security memorandum on Thursday that calls for the State Department to receive written assurances from countries receiving U.S. weapons that they will meet current U.S. standards. These include compliance with international law and that recipients will facilitate – and not “arbitrarily deny, restrict or prevent” – the transportation of US humanitarian aid.

The memorandum responds to growing criticism from prominent Democrats of Israel's military campaign and its adherence to international law despite the arrival of weapons and billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Speaking about his efforts to deliver aid to Gaza, Biden detailed how he pressed Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, which Sissi initially refused to do for fear that 'Israel is not forcibly moving Palestinians to Gaza. his country. But Biden wrongly referred to Sissi as “the president of Mexico.”

Biden's remarks came at the end of a hastily arranged news conference in which the president addressed the findings of a special counsel report released Thursday on his handling of classified materials. The report exonerated him of any criminal wrongdoing, but also included remarks from special counsel Robert K. Hur questioning his memory and mental agility.

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