Thursday, April 25

Israel-Hamas war and aid to Gaza: latest updates

President Biden said Thursday that he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are heading for a “connection with Jesus meeting” on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to an audio clip of the president’s remarks posted Friday on social media.

Mr Biden’s comment highlights growing tensions between him and Mr Netanyahu in recent weeks, as the civilian death toll in Gaza has inexorably risen and Mr Biden has come under political pressure at home and abroad to do more to force Israel to accept. to the ceasefire.

In recent days, Mr. Biden had expressed hope that a ceasefire agreement of at least six weeks would be in place by Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which begins in a few days. But Israel and Hamas are at an impasse in their negotiations to recover vulnerable hostages captured during the October 7 attack in Israel, in exchange for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Asked by reporters on Friday whether a deal could still be reached by Ramadan, Mr. Biden replied: “It’s hard to see.”

The president’s previous “come to Jesus” comments were captured on a hot microphone during what Mr. Biden thought was a private exchange with Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, after the State of the Union address .

According to a recording of the conversation, Mr. Bennet encouraged the president to “continue to press” on the issue of humanitarian aid to Gaza as Israel wages its war against Hamas, a war for which the United States has provided funding and weapons.

“I told him, ‘Bibi’ – don’t say that again – I said, ‘You and I are going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting,'” Mr. Biden said, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.

Mr. Biden was told by an aide that his microphone was still on and the conversation was being recorded. “Am I on a hot mic here?” » Mr. Biden said. “Good. “That’s good.”

Mr. Biden had just used his prime-time speech to Congress to forcefully call on Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow greater quantities of food, medicine and other aid into the besieged enclave. Gaza health authorities say 30,000 people have been killed in the Israeli offensive on Gaza, most of them civilians. Millions of people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands more face starvation.

“Israel also has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza,” Mr. Biden said in his speech. “This war has claimed more innocent civilian lives than all previous wars in Gaza combined. »

Mr. Biden strongly supported Israel’s right to invade Gaza after Hamas fighters crossed the border on October 7 and killed more than 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli authorities, in border towns, while committing atrocities and taking hostages.

The United States has continued to supply weapons to Israel and block UN resolutions demanding a ceasefire, supporting Mr. Netanyahu’s position that a permanent ceasefire would be a victory for the Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group.

But the civilian toll of Israel’s bombing campaign, coupled with rising levels of hunger and disease in Gaza, has sparked international outrage, and calls have grown for the United States to use its influence with Israel to obtain a cease-fire. At home, Mr. Biden has faced a rebellion on the issue from left-wing Democrats and Arab Americans who played an important role in his winning coalition in 2020, notably in the state of Michigan, the field of battle.

Mr. Biden’s speech on Thursday seemed aimed in part at mending those barriers. He also announced that the US military would build a floating pier off the coast of Gaza.

“To Israeli leaders, I say this: Humanitarian aid cannot be an afterthought or a bargaining chip,” Mr. Biden said in his speech. “Protecting and saving innocent lives must be a priority. »

Mr. Biden slyly acknowledged his comment to Senator Bennet when asked about it before boarding Air Force One on Friday. “I didn’t say that in the speech,” he said. But asked about his comments after the speech, Mr Biden told reporters: “You guys make mistakes. »