Oct 29, 2023 - World

Biden tells Bibi that Israel must protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza

US President Joe Biden (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 18, 2023. (Photo by GPO/ Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 18. Photo: Handout/GPO/Anadolu via Getty Images

President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should conduct its offensive against Hamas in Gaza "in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians," the White House said on Sunday.

The big picture: It was the first call between the two leaders since the Israeli military expanded its ground operations in Gaza late Friday.

  • There's growing pressure worldwide for a humanitarian ceasefire, as the death toll in Gaza mounts and conditions in the Strip worsen.
  • More than 8,000 Palestinians, including at least 3,300 children, have been killed since the war began three weeks ago, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

What they're saying: Speaking to Netanyahu on Sunday, Biden reiterated that Israel has the right to defend its citizens, but he said it should do so in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, according to the White House readout of the call.

  • Biden and Netanyahu discussed ongoing efforts to locate and secure the release of hostages, including American citizens.
  • "The president underscored the need to immediately and significantly increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza," the White House said.

Biden spoke separately to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about the need to significantly accelerate and increase the assistance flowing into Gaza, according to the White House.

  • "They also discussed the importance of protecting civilian lives, respect for international humanitarian law, and ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other nation," the White House readout said.

State of play: The Israeli military expanded its ground offensive, which has been backed by intensified air raids, late Friday in what Netanyahu described as the "second phase" of the war.

  • Since then, the Israeli military has sent armored and infantry divisions into the northern Gaza Strip, Israeli officials told Axios.
  • Israel has said its operation is aimed at destroying "Hamas's governing and military capabilities," following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in which Hamas killed 1,400 people, including many civilians, and took more than 220 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.

A communications blackout cut off most of the Strip's 2.2 million people, including hundreds of Americans, from the rest of the world on Friday and Saturday, but internet and phone service for many was gradually restored on Sunday.

  • The UN and other groups voiced dire warnings on Sunday about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Strip, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres saying the "situation in Gaza is growing more desperate by the hour."
  • This weekend, Israel opened a second water pipe to southern Gaza where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the northern part of the Strip have fled to over the last few weeks, Israeli officials told reporters. The pipe was initially closed as part of Israel's siege of the enclave.
  • Israel has also agreed to allow "significantly" more trucks carrying assistance into Gaza in the coming week, the Israeli officials said.

Go deeper: White House preps for broader war as concerns rise

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