Biden tells Netanyahu Rafah operation would be 'mistake'

AFP , Monday 18 Mar 2024

US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday that a major ground offensive in Gaza's Rafah would be a "mistake," as the two leaders spoke for the first time in a month amid growing tensions.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden. AFP

But in a sign of the increasingly difficult relationship, Netanyahu said that he had insisted to Biden on achieving all of Israel's war on Gaza.

The pair last spoke on February 15, and Biden has been increasingly vocal in his criticisms of the Palestinian death toll and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza where the UN has warned of famine.

"The president explained why he is so deeply concerned about the prospect of Israel conducting major military operations in Rafah," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a briefing Monday.

"A major ground operation there would be a mistake, it would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza, and further isolate Israel internationally," said Sullivan.

Biden had asked Netanyahu to send a senior team of military, intelligence, and aid officials to Washington to "hear US concerns" about the current Rafah plan, and discuss an "alternative approach" involving targeted raids on Hamas.

Netanyahu agreed to "have this discussion and this engagement," Sullivan said.

Sullivan described the call as "businesslike." Explaining why the two leaders had not spoken for 32 days, Sullivan said Biden reserves his calls for Netanyahu for "when he believes there is a key strategic moment."

Meanwhile, the US state department said Washington "wants to see this conflict end as soon as possible."

In a department press briefing, spoksperson Vedant Patel said "In fact, Hamas could end this conflict yesterday. Hamas could lay down its arms, all of its arms."

And on the impact on children, "we are, of course, devasted by the toll that this conflict has taken. It is an unspeakable tragedy, the number of children that have been killed, and it is an unacceptable outcome of the fighting of the past five months."

He added that Washington "reiterated to our Israeli partners that additional steps must be taken to minimize civilian casualties."

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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