Biden warns Israel against Rafah attack without plan to protect civilians

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President Joe Biden on Monday warned Israel against invading the southern Gaza city of Rafah, insisting that the U.S. would not support any operation that fails to account for the safety of the Palestinians who fled there under Israeli orders.

“The major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than one million people sheltering there,” Biden said at the White House. “They need to be protected.”

Biden’s remarks during a joint appearance with King Abdullah II of Jordan mirrored the message that U.S. officials have privately relayed to Israeli leaders in an effort to head off a planned ground invasion of the city.

The president also leveled a rare measure of direct criticism at Israel over its broader war, saying “too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians and children.”

“Many families have lost not just one, but many relatives, and cannot mourn for them,” Biden said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Biden’s appearance following a meeting with the Jordanian king represented his first extended remarks since Thursday night, when the president delivered
a fiery rebuke
of a special counsel report that repeatedly criticized his memory.

The report concluded that Biden’s mishandling of classified documents didn’t warrant criminal charges. But Special Counsel Robert Hur described the president as frequently forgetful — depictions that angered Biden and advisers who disputed them as gratuitous and incorrect, and revived scrutiny of the president’s age and mental acuity.

Democrats in the aftermath have urged the administration to dispel voter fears about Biden’s age by
putting him out in public more often
, including doing more press conferences and interviews that can showcase his leadership and command of the issues.

But there is little immediate evidence that the administration is changing its approach.

On Friday, the White House declined to hold a joint press conference with Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, eschewing the so-called 2×2 format occasionally employed when a foreign leader visits that allows a pair of outlets from each country to ask questions.

On Monday, Biden similarly opted against taking questions alongside the King of Jordan, and ignored a series of shouted questions as they left the room.

Biden briefly did allude to the special counsel’s criticisms of his memory during a speech Monday morning at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference. Yet, like he has with the broader age concerns that have trailed him for months, he sought to turn it into a punchline.

“I know I don’t look like it, but I’ve been around a while,” Biden said. “I do remember that.”

But later, as he and Abdullah made remarks, Biden stuck strictly to his prepared comments about Israel’s war and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“We’re actively working for peace, security and dignity for both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” Biden said on Monday. “We’ve also been clear from the start: We oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.”

Biden added that the U.S. is working toward a deal between Israel and Hamas that would halt the fighting for at least six weeks, with the hope it would build toward a longer-term truce. But there are still elements that must be hammered out, he said, urging Israeli leaders to keep working toward a deal.

The president’s appeal comes as the relations between the U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have become increasingly strained. Biden has grown more critical of Netanyahu in public, saying last week that Israel’s war in Gaza has been “over the top.”

Biden and other senior officials have also repeatedly expressed opposition to a ground operation in Rafah in recent days, including a call with Netanyahu on Sunday where Biden relayed his reservations.

On Monday, Biden again insisted that Israel must eventually seek a two-state solution, adding that the Palestinian authority needed to be prepared to negotiate an enduring peace.

“Once Hamas’ control of Gaza is over, they must be prepared to build a state that accepts peace, does not harbor terrorist groups,” he said.

This post was originally published on Politico

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