Biden presses Netanyahu for steps to protect civilians in Gaza: White House | Israel War on Gaza News | Al Jazeera

Biden presses Netanyahu for steps to protect civilians in Gaza: White House | Israel War on Gaza News

Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden has pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement “specific, concrete and measurable” steps to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza, the White House said after a phone call between the two leaders.

The call was the first direct communication Biden and Netanyahu have had since an Israeli attack killed seven World Central Kitchen humanitarian workers earlier this week.

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On Thursday, Biden appeared to scold Netanyahu, according to a White House statement describing the talks.

“President Biden emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable,” the White House said.

Biden also “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” to address the harm and suffering.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby later suggested that there would be consequences for Israel if it does not increase the flow of aid into Gaza and take measures to safeguard civilians and humanitarian workers. But he declined to provide details.

“I’m not going to preview any potential policy decisions coming forward. What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side. And if we don’t see changes from their side, there’ll have to be changes from our side,” he said on Thursday.

So far, the Biden administration has ruled out placing conditions on aid and weapon transfers to Israel. It has also repeatedly supported Israel’s military campaign in Gaza as necessary to crack down on the Palestinian group Hamas.

“We are still supporting Israel’s ability to defend itself against this still-viable threat,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “And that’s going to continue.”

Kirby reiterated that stance on Thursday, saying the US “still has an ironclad commitment to help Israel with its self-defence”.

According to US media reports, the Biden administration authorised the transfer of thousands of military articles to Israel, including 900kg (2,000-pound) bombs, in recent weeks.

The Biden administration has also refused to criticise or condemn an Israeli air raid on an Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed seven people, including an Iranian commander.

Diplomatic facilities are protected under international law, and Washington itself has warned against expanding the conflict in Gaza into a regional war.

During Thursday’s call with Netanyahu, however, Biden voiced support for Israel against possible Iranian retaliation, according to the White House.

“The two leaders also discussed public Iranian threats against Israel and the Israeli people,” it said. “President Biden made clear that the United States strongly supports Israel in the face of those threats.”

The call came amid reports in US media that Biden is increasingly angry at Netanyahu over the mounting death toll and indiscriminate attacks in Gaza.

Biden himself expressed outrage at Monday’s Israeli strike that killed the World Central Kitchen workers, including one US citizen, calling for a swift Israeli investigation that would “bring accountability”.

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed,” Biden said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult — because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians.”

Still, the administration has signalled that it will continue its weapon transfers to Israel.

Both the White House and the US Department of State said this week that the US has not found Israel to be in violation of international humanitarian law despite reports accusing its military of abuses.

On Thursday, Kirby also said that the US will wait for Israel to conclude its own probe into the incident.

But rights groups have argued that Israel should not be trusted to investigate itself. Israeli authorities rarely prosecute their own soldiers and commanders despite apparent rights violations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Moreover, rights advocates have expressed scepticism towards the Biden administration’s call for accountability.

In 2022, the Biden administration similarly urged accountability after Israeli forces shot and killed Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.

But despite acknowledging that its soldiers fired the fatal bullet, Israel dismissed the incident as a mistake, and the US walked back its call for accountability.

Initially, the Biden administration defined accountability as prosecuting the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law. It later said accountability can be achieved by revising Israel’s rules of engagement, so similar incidents would not happen again.

The Israeli government, however, openly rebuffed Washington’s calls for reform. “No one will dictate our rules of engagement to us,” then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at that time.

The White House did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on how accountability can be achieved in the World Central Kitchen workers strikes.


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