newsIsrael at War

Biden calls for ceasefire in call with Netanyahu

According to the White House, the president "reiterated his clear position on Rafah" and updated the prime minister on "efforts to secure a hostage deal."

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

A ceasefire deal with Hamas is the best way to protect the lives of the 132 hostages held by the terrorist organization in Gaza, U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call on Monday, a White House spokesperson said.

Biden expressed his concerns over the Israel Defense Forces’ imminent military operation in Rafah, as the army began sending messages to Palestinians to flee the eastern districts of the Hamas-controlled city.

According to a White House readout, the president “reiterated his clear position on Rafah” and updated Netanyahu on “efforts to secure a hostage deal, including through ongoing talks today in Doha, Qatar.”

The call took place as Hamas claimed it had accepted a ceasefire deal proposed by mediators, in what senior officials in Jerusalem described as “an exercise by Hamas meant to present Israel as the refuser.”

The proposal that Hamas claimed to have agreed to remains unknown to Israel and the United States and did not come up in Netanyahu’s conversation with Biden, a senior Israeli political official cited by Ynet stressed.

Earlier on Monday, sources in the terror organization told the Qatari Al-Araby Al-Jadeed news outlet that Hamas decided to withdraw from talks on a hostages-for-ceasefire and terrorists-release deal with Israel.

Biden during the call reportedly demanded the reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing to southern Gaza after it was shuttered following a Hamas mortar attack from Rafah that killed four soldiers on Sunday.

“The prime minister agreed to ensure the Kerem Shalom crossing is open for humanitarian assistance for those in need,” the White House said.

Earlier on Monday, Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s top diplomat, wrote on X that “Israel’s evacuation orders to civilians in Rafah portend the worst: more war and famine. It is unacceptable.

“Israel must renounce to [sic] a ground offensive and implement UNSCR 2728. The E.U., with the International Community, can and must act to prevent such scenario,” he continued.

The Security Council resolution Borrell mentioned was passed in March and called for “an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire” and emphasized “the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to and reinforce the protection of civilians in the entire Gaza Strip.”

Washington abstained in the 14-0 vote. As one of the council’s permanent members, the United States could have vetoed the resolution, which the 10 elected, non-permanent members (E10) of the council drafted and circulated.

Paris also came out against the IDF evacuation orders, with its foreign ministry saying, “France reiterates that it is strongly opposed to an Israeli offensive on Rafah, where more than 1.3 million people are taking refuge in a situation of great distress. The forced displacement of a civilian population constitutes a war crime.

“We repeat our calls for the release of all the abductees held by Hamas and for a prolonged ceasefire.”

The planned battle comes as hostage talks reportedly collapsed on Sunday and Monday due to Hamas’s insistence that any deal be accompanied by an end to the war and complete IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said on Sunday in a statement, “The State of Israel cannot accept this. We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding communities, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country.”

On Monday, Hamas threatened Israel, with Izzat al-Rishek, a member of its political bureau, saying, “This will not be a picnic for the Israeli army. Netanyahu and his government will bear the responsibility.”

The Palestinian Authority also issued a statement against the planned IDF operation, saying, “The American administration must prevent this massacre. We warn against its dangerous consequences.”

The IDF called on residents of eastern Rafah to evacuate to humanitarian zones, the army announced on Monday morning.

The IDF has marked out two evacuation zones: An expansion of the Al-Mawasi zone along the central-southern Gazan coastline, and Khan Yunis. Monday’s message directs noncombatants to the expanded area in Al-Mawasi, which includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medicine and other supplies.

‘This meant the start of the Israeli operation’

The Cabinet decided on the evacuation on Sunday night, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant informing U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of the decision overnight. The area initially designated for evacuation contains around 100,000 people.

Gallant told Austin of “the many efforts that the State of Israel is making to reach [an agreement] for the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire, and said that at this stage Hamas refuses any proposal that would allow this,” according to a readout of the call from Gallant’s office.

The Israeli defense minister emphasized that “there was no choice left, and this meant the start of the Israeli operation in Rafah.”

Austin tweeted about the decision, writing that he “reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages and stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid,” according to the Pentagon’s readout of the phone call.

Austin also “reiterated the United States’ commitment to supporting Israel’s defense.”

Egypt, which shares a border with Rafah, upped its security on Monday out of fears that the battle may lead to a mass exodus of Palestinians into the Sinai Peninsula. Its foreign ministry in Cairo sent a note to Israel, saying the Rafah operation “carries deep humanitarian dangers.”

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