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Politics

Biden: Netanyahu ‘Hurting Israel’ by not Preventing More Civilian Deaths in Gaza

WILMINGTON, Del.  — President Joe Biden said Saturday that he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” in how he is approaching its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The U.S. leader expressed support for Israel’s right to pursue Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack, but said of Netanyahu that “he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.” Biden has for months warned that Israel risks losing international support over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, and the latest remarks in an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart pointed to the increasingly strained relationship between the two leaders.

Biden said of the death toll in Gaza, “it’s contrary to what Israel stands for. And I think it’s a big mistake.”

Biden said a potential Israeli invasion of the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering, is “a red line” for him, but said he would not cut off weapons like the Iron Dome missile interceptors which protect the Israeli civilian populace from rocket attacks in the region.

“It is a red line,” he said, when asked about Rafah, “but I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical, so there’s no red line I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

Biden said he was willing to make his case directly to the Israeli Knesset, its parliament, including by making another trip to the country. He traveled to Israel weeks after the Oct. 7. attack. He declined to elaborate on how or whether such a trip might materialize.

The U.S. leader had hoped to secure a temporary ceasefire before Ramadan begins next week, though that appears increasingly unlikely as Hamas has balked at a deal pushed by the U.S. and its allies that would have seen fighting pause for about six weeks, the release of additional hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and a surge in humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Israel remains committed to continuing its invasion and annihilating Hamas, which killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages on Oct. 7. The militant group freed dozens of hostages during a November truce, but it refuses to release more without guarantees of a complete end of hostilities.

Meanwhile, more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza according to the Hamas-run health ministry, with the majority being women and children, and hundreds of thousands going hungry.

Biden noted CIA Director Bill Burns is in the region currently trying to resurrect the deal.

Biden’s comments came after he was captured on a hot mic following Thursday night’s State of the Union address telling Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. that he and the Israeli leader will need to have a “come to Jesus meeting.”

In the exchange, Bennet congratulated Biden on his speech and urged the president to keep pressing Netanyahu on growing humanitarian concerns in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were also part of the brief conversation.

Biden then responds using Netanyahu’s nickname, saying, “I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”

An aide to the president standing nearby then speaks quietly into the president’s ear, appearing to alert Biden that microphones remained on as he worked the room.

“I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden says after being alerted. “Good. That’s good.”

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