WASHINGTON — President Biden warned Israel on Monday not to try to clear out the final pockets of Hamas control in Gaza yet because Israel has already killed “too many” Palestinian civilians and that new safeguards are needed.
Biden, speaking alongside Jordanian King Abdullah II during the Mideast leader’s visit to the White House, escalated his criticism of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — even as aides denied the ramp-up was prompted by polls showing the president risks swing-state losses in November by angering Muslim and Arab voters.
“The major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan — a credible plan — for ensuring the safety and support of more than 1 million people sheltering,” said Biden, 81, referring to Israel’s pending ground invasion of the southern Gaza city.
“Many people there have been displaced — displaced multiple times, fleeing the violence to the north. And now they’re packed into Rafah, exposed and vulnerable. They need to be protected. And we’ve also been clear from the start we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” the president said.
Biden has faced large protests, including outside the White House, and persistent heckling during public appearances denouncing him as “Genocide Joe” after presenting himself as a stalwart defender of Israel early in the war and requesting $14.3 billion in military aid from Congress.
Biden noted Monday that Hamas terrorists started the war with an Oct. 7 surprise attack killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping roughly 250 others but added that “for the past four months, as the war has raged, the Palestinian people have also suffered unimaginable pain and loss.
“Too many, too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians and children, including thousands of children,” Biden said.
The president appeared to cite a slightly outdated figure from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which as of Monday counted more than 28,000 dead.
Earlier in the war, Biden dismissed the Hamas ministry’s claim that 5,000 had died in the initial 18 days of fighting — saying Oct. 25, “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people were killed. I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”
Abdullah also Monday urged both sides to end the war.
“We must — together, along with Arab partners and the international community — step up efforts to reach a cease-fire in Gaza and immediately start working to create a political horizon that leads to a just and comprehensive peace on the basis of a two-state solution,” the king said.
Biden said Monday that he’s concerned about living standards in Gaza as well.
“Hundreds of thousands have no access to food, water and other basic services. Many families have lost not just one, but many relatives and cannot mourn for them or even bury them because it’s not safe to do so. It’s heartbreaking,” Biden said, also hailing Abdullah, a pilot, for participating in aid airdrops.
“Every innocent life in Gaza is a tragedy. Just as every innocent life lost in Israel is a tragedy as well,” Biden said.
The US leader said that he hopes for a six-week pause in fighting as part of a hostage exchange deal.
Biden has gradually increased his criticism of Netanyahu as polls hint at trouble in the US election.
The president said Thursday that the Israeli response in Gaza had been “over the top” — after officials leaked to the press that Biden had privately called Netanyahu a “f–king bad guy.” In an additional leak, three sources told NBC for a Monday report that Biden had on at least three occasions called Netanyahu an “a–hole.”