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Friday, July 26, 2024

Biden: It’s ‘hurting Israel more than helping’

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Netanyahu approach to Gaza war

WASHINGTON, DC—Joe Biden said Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the war in Gaza was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” in an interview aired Saturday (Sunday in Manila), as the US leader’s impatience with his Israeli counterpart grows increasingly visible.

With Gaza’s humanitarian crisis growing more dire and Biden’s left flank in uproar, the US president made contradictory remarks as to the question of a “red line” over Israel’s threatened offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Netanyahu “has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas,” Biden said, but added “he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

“In my view he is hurting Israel more than helping Israel,” he said.

As to Israel’s potential invasion of Rafah, where some 1.5 million of the territory’s 2.4 million residents are now crammed, Biden was ambiguous.

“It is a red line,” the 81-year-old Democrat said, immediately adding: “I am never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical.

here is no red line (in which) I want to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome (air defense system) to protect them.”

He then once again countered that there were in fact “red lines… You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.”

Meanwhile, a boat laden with food for Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza was “ready” to set sail from Cyprus, an NGO said last weekend, as fighting raged between Israeli troops and Hamas militants ahead of Ramadan.

The sea route aims to counter aid access restrictions, which humanitarians and foreign governments have blamed on Israel, more than five months into the war which has left Gaza’s 2.4 million people struggling to survive.

Hopes were fading fast for a pause in the fighting before Ramadan, which could begin as early as Sunday depending on the lunar calendar, as Israel accused Hamas of seeking to “inflame” the region during the Muslim fasting month.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned of looming famine, particularly in north Gaza where no overland border crossings are open.

In Rafah, in Gaza’s far south, “we can barely get water,” said displaced Palestinian woman Nasreen Abu Yussef.

Roughly 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge in the city, where Atallah al-Satel said he wanted an end to the war.

“We are just exhausted citizens,” said Satel, who had fled to Rafah from Khan Yunis.

In Tel Aviv, shouting “Elections now!” and “Bring back the hostages now!” thousands of Israeli demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv during the weekend to demand the departure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after five months of war in Gaza.

With t-shirts and banners featuring the names and pictures of hostages seized during Hamas’s October 7 attack, the crowd demanded swift action to rescue the remaining captives.

The attack on southern Israel that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign to destroy Hamas has killed 30,960 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

Around 100 hostages remain in Gaza alive and 31 are presumed dead, Israel has said, a key source of demonstrators’ despair.

“We are a broken country,” said Ora, a psychologist in her 60s who did not want to give her full name.

Some protesters called for an immediate ceasefire, a position Netanyahu’s government has so far rejected, arguing it would amount to a victory for Hamas.

“Ceasefire? yes, we don’t have any choice,” said Israel Alva, a former soldier who now sells medical equipment, adding that there was no “political plan” for after the war.

Mediators have been pushing for a new truce deal before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, set to begin in the coming days.

But US President Joe Biden said on Friday that a breakthrough was “looking tough.”

Shai Gill, a 50-year-old airline pilot who joined the Tel Aviv rally, said Netanyahu’s government — already hit by a massive protest wave before the war — “cannot stay in power” after the October 7 attack.

“They don’t have the trust of the people and we have to go for an election,” Gill said.

He accused the government of being “driven by the motivation to stay in power, and not by what is good for the country. They just are clinging to their seats.”

Police later said they arrested 16 protesters for public disturbances, while the force used water canons to disperse the crowd as they blocked a highway.

Saturday’s gathering bore some resemblance to mass protests against Netanyahu’s controversial legal overhaul before the war in Gaza — “a century ago”, as one protester put it with a sigh.

Israel’s top court in January ruled against a key component of the changes, which have largely been shelved.

Netanyahu had argued that they were necessary to rebalance powers between judges and elected officials.

But his detractors warned the multi-pronged package could have paved the way for authoritarian rule and be used by Netanyahu to quash possible corruption convictions against him.

Netanyahu was dealt a new blow this week when a probe found that the premier “bears personal responsibility” for a 2021 stampede in northern Israel that killed 45 Jewish pilgrims.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response that the investigation was politically motivated.

“Netanyahu has always governed the same way, with this attitude of ‘I’m not responsible’,” Gill said.

After Biden’s State of the Union address Thursday, he was caught on a hot mic stating that he’d told Netanyahu they would need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting, an American expression that refers to a dramatic realization that one must correct course.

Despite Biden’s shift in tone, his administration has given short shrift to activist calls to cut the billions of dollars in military aid the United States sends to Israel.

Gaza has faced relentless bombardment by Israel since Hamas launched a shocking cross-border attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to official figures.

Hamas also seized about 250 hostages, 99 of whom are believed by Israel to remain alive in Gaza.

Israel’s retaliatory operations in Hamas-controlled Gaza have killed more than 30,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Biden was evasive Saturday on the possibility of a new trip to Israel, which he visited in October shortly after the deadly Hamas attack, and which included a speech to lawmakers.

Asked if it was something he would do again, Biden responded “yes” but declined to say whether he was invited.

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