Biden, Netanyahu speak as Israel tells Gazans to leave Rafah

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Monday as Israel military urged civilians to move out of the southern Gazan city of Rafah, according to US and Israeli officials.

(FILES) Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu April 4, 2024, the White House said, amid growing outrage over an Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)(AFP)

The discussion came hours after Israel’s military told Palestinians to move out of parts of the city where more than a million people are sheltering. Israel Defense Forces conducted air strikes early Monday morning, but the warning has prompted speculation Israel may be readying long-expected ground operations.

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The US has made clear its opposition to a major ground invasion of Rafah to the Israeli government, according to a White House National Security Council spokesperson, who confirmed the call between the two leaders. The leaders spoke for about 30 minutes, according to an Israeli official.

Biden is also set to meet Monday with King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss the conflict. Cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, brokered by Egypt and Qatar appeared to stall over the weekend.

Talks stalled over insistence by the Iran-backed militant group that a truce be permanent — a condition that Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel intends to fully eradicate Hamas from Gaza, has been reluctant to concede. Hamas killed four Israeli soldiers with a rocket barrage on Sunday on the border crossing of Kerem Shalom, one of its worst missile attacks in weeks.

Earlier: Israel Tells Civilians to Leave Rafah as It Weighs Attack

Large numbers of people began leaving Rafah following Israel’s warning, though it is unclear how long it would take for the bulk of civilians to leave. Israeli officials privately say it could take weeks, while the US has expressed doubts that it can be done safely.

Netanyahu has for months said civilians in Rafah would be moved out before any attack. There are around 1.4 million in the city, most of whom fled there after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

The Israel Defense Forces “will act with extreme force against terrorist organizations in your areas of residence,” a spokesman said on X on Monday morning. He urged residents of eastern Rafah to go north to an “expanded humanitarian area” near Khan Younis, another city in Gaza.

Most Arab and many European states have said Israel should not attack the city, fearing it would lead to mass civilian casualties and worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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