Biden to visit Israel Wednesday as Gaza ground offensive looms
The U.S. president ‘will reaffirm the United States’ solidarity with Israel’ following Hamas terrorist attack
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Following a week of escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas, President Joe Biden will visit Tel Aviv on Wednesday for a single-day trip that will also include a stop in Amman.
In Israel, Biden will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; in Jordan, he will hold a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The president will reaffirm the United States’ solidarity with Israel and our ironclad commitment to its security,” Secretary of State Tony Blinken said on Monday in Tel Aviv, his final stop on a whirlwind Middle East diplomatic tour. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also visited Israel over the weekend.
Other key agenda items for the trip include learning more about the hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 “so that we can develop policy options” and discussing the “critical need for humanitarian assistance to get into Gaza, as well as the ability for innocent civilians to get out,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told reporters on Monday night.
The news of Biden’s trip came alongside an announcement from Blinken that the United States and Israel agreed to develop a plan to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza. The deal includes “the possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm’s way,” said Blinken.
Speaking to reporters hours later, Kirby declined to offer specifics as to when humanitarian aid will begin to reach Gaza.
“We certainly want to see it flow as soon as possible, but I can’t possibly give you a timestamp tonight,” he said.
Kirby also reiterated what has become a key talking point from Biden administration officials: that Hamas is entirely to blame for the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
“We have since the very beginning been discussing with our Israeli counterparts the importance of the law of armed conflict and the protection of innocent civilians, and that is what separates democracies like Israel and the United States from Hamas, who is deliberately placing civilians in harm’s way — in fact, blocking them from even moving out of Northern Gaza,” Kirby said. “They don’t care about, obviously, innocent life, having taken more than 1,300 Israeli innocent lives, and now placing literally a couple of million Palestinians in Gaza at greater risk.”
Any additional security assistance that Washington sends to Israel will not be subject to any conditions or restrictions, Kirby said.
“They have a right to defend themselves. They have a right to go after this terrorist threat,” he said. “We ascribe to the law of armed conflict, and that will continue to be our mutual expectations going forward.”
Washington decries the death of any innocent civilians, “no matter what side of the line they live on, or how they call themselves or how they worship,” Kirby said. But it is Hamas, he said, who is liable for the deaths of 2,500 Palestinians in Gaza: “I would remind that Hamas is deliberately placing innocent civilians in Gaza at greater risk by setting up roadblocks not letting them move, putting up command and control headquarters and tunnels underneath their homes and in schools and hospitals.”
Iran has in recent days pledged to escalate the conflict if Israel launches a Gaza ground offensive, but the White House said they have not yet seen proof of any such plans.
“We haven’t seen an indication that that’s necessarily in the offing right now, but we are watching it very, very closely,” said Kirby. “We don’t want to see this conflict widening. We don’t want to see any other actor, and that includes Iran, jumping in here and escalating this conflict.”