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Biden’s Israel visit focuses on Netanyahu after Arab summit cancelled

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© FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON () -U.S. President Joe Biden left Washington Tuesday evening on a whirlwind trip that was originally expected to touch down in Israel for an update on Israel’s war aims in its battle with Hamas militants, and then Jordan, to stress the need to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza civilians.

A strike on a Gaza hospital late on Tuesday that killed hundreds of Palestinians saw Arab leaders call off their planned summit with Biden in Jordan however, and that leg of the trip cancelled.

MEETING WITH ISRAEL’S NETANYAHU BUT NOT ARAB LEADERS

Biden is spending part of Wednesday in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials as Israel prepares a ground offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas militants in Gaza who killed 1,300 people during a rampage through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7.

Biden will no longer fly to Amman for talks about humanitarian assistance after Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, who has long been opposed to Hamas and whose organization exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said after the Gaza hospital strike he would not meet the U.S. President.

Palestinian authorities say Israel is responsible for the strike, Israel said the blast was caused by a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, which denied blame. Biden backed Israel’s account.

HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS IN GAZA

Biden’s second trip to a war zone this year – he visited Ukraine in February – carries some risk. His goal was originally to show American solidarity with Netanyahu while trying to avoid a broader regional war involving Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and Syria.

How he accomplishes that balance while meeting only Netanyahu and Israeli officials is unclear.

The United States has stationed a carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean in a show of force for Israel and a second is on the way.

Biden also wants to avert a humanitarian calamity in Gaza where authorities say thousands have already been killed in Israeli bombardment over the last week.

Hundreds of tons of aid from several countries have been waiting in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for days pending a deal for its safe delivery to Gaza and the evacuation of some foreign passport holders through the Rafah crossing.

“He’ll make it clear that we want to continue working with all our partners in the region, including Israel, to get humanitarian assistance in and provide some kind of safe passage for civilians to get out,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:).

ISRAEL RED LINES

Biden and Netanyahu, thrown into a wartime partnership despite deep political differences on the way forward in the Middle East, have joined forces.

Biden has given Israel full-throated support while stressing the need to head off a massive humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Their face-to-face meeting, after several phone calls since the attacks, will allow Biden to privately discuss concerns and possible red lines in the coming Gaza invasion.

Biden will also get an update on the scores of hostages taken by Hamas. The State Department has said 29 citizens of the United States were killed in the Hamas attacks, with 15 citizens and one lawful permanent resident unaccounted for.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement.

Biden will make clear that “Israel has the right and indeed the duty to defend its people from Hamas and other terrorists and to prevent future attacks,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.

He said Israel would brief Biden on its war aims and strategy and how it will conduct operations “in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”

The U.S. and Israel agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza, Blinken said.

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