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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden late Thursday offered one of his sharpest rebukes to date of Israel’s military conduct in Gaza, saying the operation to go after Hamas had been “over the top.”
He also voiced optimism that a deal currently being brokered pairing the release of hostages with a prolonged pause in the fighting could eventually lead to a more sustained change in the war.
And he painted a stark portrait of the suffering in Gaza, insisting more must be done to stem the humanitarian crisis there.
Delivered at the very end of a fiery evening news conference, Biden’s remarks offered a new window into his view of the four-month conflict, which has tested American diplomacy and exposed divisions within his Democratic coalition.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza – in the Gaza Strip – has been over the top,” Biden told reporters at the White House, describing his own efforts to open up Gaza so more humanitarian aid could flow in.
His assessment of the Israeli military campaign as excessive marked a new stage in Biden’s public posturing on the war. For much of the months since October 7, Biden has embraced Israel and staunchly defended its right to go after Hamas.
Privately, however, frustration inside the White House has been building at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for shrugging off calls by American officials to transition to a lower intensity phase of the war. Biden and his team have also been irritated by Netanyahu’s public rejections of a two-state solution, long a lynchpin of American policy in the region.
During his remarks Thursday, Biden sought to highlight the plight of Gazans who have endured heavy Israeli bombardment and a lack of essential supplies since the October 7 terror attacks, committed by Hamas.
“I’ve been pushing really hard – really hard – to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. A lot of innocent people are starving. A lot innocent people in trouble and dying. And it’s got to stop,” Biden said.
Biden has come under intense pressure from members of his own party to speak more forcefully on the situation in Gaza, and to demand a ceasefire. He has been met with protests at nearly every place he traveled in recent weeks.
Administration officials met with Michigan leaders on Thursday in an attempt to quell uproar from key parts of the president’s coalition over his support for Israel in its war against Hamas and his continued reticence to publicly call for a ceasefire.
In statements after the meeting, which lasted about two hours, some of those involved vented their frustration with what they heard. A spokesperson for one group said it was “met with yet another failure from the Biden administration to call for an immediate ceasefire that saves lives.”
As American, Qatari and Egyptian negotiators continue to work on striking an agreement between Israel and Hamas to pause the fighting in exchange for a release of prisoners, Biden said such a deal could eventually lead to a different type of war altogether.
“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Biden said. “I’ve been working tirelessly in this deal.”
He said the proposal would “lead to a sustained pause in the fighting, in the actions taking place in the Gaza Strip. And because I think if we could get the delay for that, the initial delay, I think that we would be able to extend that so that we could increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes.”
American officials have said they believe a pause in the fighting would allow more diplomatic space to discuss the future of Gaza and, eventually, a Palestinian state.
Still, more work is needed to reach an agreement all sides can accept. On Wednesday, Netanyahu rejected a proposal from Hamas as “crazy,” suggesting the group’s demands were beyond what he could sign off on. — CNN
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