Our support depends on your actions to protect Gaza civilians: US president Biden tells Israeli PM Netanyahu

The United States issued its strongest public rebuke toward Israel on Thursday since the start of its war with Hamas, warning that American policy on Gaza will be determined by whether Israel takes steps to address the safety of Palestinian civilians and aid workers.

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. (REUTERS)

President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel must take immediate action to reduce civilian harm and suffering, the White House said after the two leaders spoke by phone.

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Biden also told Netanyahu, in a call lasting less then 30 minutes, that an immediate ceasefire in the region was essential and called on Israel “to conclude a deal without delay” with Hamas to bring Israeli hostages home, nearly six months after the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.

The White House statement reflected a sharp change in Biden’s tone and, for what appears to be the first time, a set of strings attached to continued U.S. support.

By suggesting a shift in U.S. policy toward Gaza was possible if Israel did not address the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian enclave, Biden channeled his own frustration along with mounting pressure from his left-leaning political base to stop the killings and alleviate hunger among innocent civilians.

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Biden “made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers,” the White House said in its statement.

The president also “made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps,” it added.

On Monday, Israel launched an attack that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza.

The White House has described Biden as outraged and heartbroken by the attack but, prior to Thursday’s call, the president had made no fundamental change in Washington’s steadfast support for Israel in its conflict against Palestinian Hamas militants.

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In Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel, as a democracy, to place the highest value on human life and increase the flow of aid to Gaza, adding that this week’s “horrific attack” on World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza must be the last such incident.

“Right now, there is no higher priority in Gaza than protecting civilians, surging humanitarian assistance, and ensuring the security of those who provide it. Israel must meet this moment,” Blinken told reporters.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres told Reuters in an emotional interview on Wednesday that the Israeli attack had targeted his aid workers “systematically, car by car.”

Israel said on Thursday it would adjust tactics in the Gaza war after describing the attack as the result of a misidentification, and that inquiry findings would be made public soon.

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