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Biden threatens change in US policy if Netanyahu fails to protect Gaza civilians

April 5, 2024 at 9:19 am

US President Joe Biden speaks during the Greek Independence Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 4, 2024 [Celal Güneş – Anadolu Agency]

US President Joe Biden yesterday threatened to condition support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza on it taking concrete steps to protect aid workers and civilians, seeking for the first time to leverage American aid to influence Tel Aviv’s military behaviour, Reuters reports.

Biden’s warning, relayed in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, followed a deadly Israeli attack on World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers that spurred new calls from Biden’s fellow Democrats to place conditions on US aid to Israel. Israel said the attack was a mistake.

The US president, a lifelong supporter of Israel, has resisted pressure to withhold aid or halt the shipment of weapons to the country. His warning marked the first time he has threatened to potentially condition aid, a development that could change the dynamic of the Israeli offensive that is entering its seventh month.

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 of the leaders’ phone call. It said the call lasted about 30 minutes.

The president “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps,” the White House said in a statement.

Washington is Israel’s top weapons supplier and the Biden administration has mostly provided a diplomatic shield for it at the United Nations.

At a briefing after the call, White House spokesperson John Kirby declined to elaborate on any specific changes the US would make in its policy toward Israel and Gaza.

He said Washington hoped to see an announcement of Israeli steps in the “coming hours and days.”

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

Asked about possible changes in US policy, Netanyahu spokesperson Tal Heinrich told Fox News: “I think it’s something that Washington will have to explain.”

Later, the White House welcomed moves by Israel to open the Ashdod port and Erez crossing to increase deliveries of humanitarian assistance and to step up deliveries from Jordan directly into Gaza.

But these steps, said White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson, “must now be fully and rapidly implemented.”

On Monday, Israel launched an attack that killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen group, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres. Andres told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the Israeli attack had targeted his aid workers “systematically, car by car.”

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