Feb 15, 2024 - World

Biden, Bibi discuss Gaza hostage talks, Rafah and aid in their 2nd call this week

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

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday held their second call this week, as concerns mounted globally over the lack of major progress in the hostage talks and the possibility of an Israeli ground operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Why it matters: Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu and Israel's actions during the war. The U.S. president last week called the Israeli military operation Gaza "over the top."

Details: Thursday's call focused on the hostage deal negotiations, the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the Israeli military operation in the enclave, specifically the possible operation in Rafah. It lasted about 40 minutes, according to an Israeli official.

  • During the call, Biden "reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah," the White House said in a readout.
  • The two leaders also discussed "the urgency of ensuring that humanitarian assistance is able to get to Palestinian civilians in desperate need," it added.
  • The readout also noted that the remaining hostages in Gaza have been in Hamas captivity for 132 days.

State of play: Thursday's call took place amid growing global concern about a possible expansion of Israel's military operation into Rafah, where more than 1.2 million Palestinians are sheltering from the fighting.

  • Biden and other U.S. officials have repeatedly told the Israeli government that no Rafah operation should take place without an evacuation of the civilian population.
  • More than 28,600 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to the Ministry of Health in the Hamas-run enclave.

On the hostage talks, Biden told reporters on Monday that the U.S. will do everything possible to get a deal.

  • CIA director Bill Burns was in Israel earlier Thursday to meet with Netanyahu and Mossad chief David Barnea to discuss the current negotiations.
  • During a call between Biden and Netanyahu on Sunday, the U.S. president urged the Israeli leader to try to find ways to close the gaps in the talks.
  • But after a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday between U.S., Egyptian, Qatari and Israeli officials ended without a major breakthrough, Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Egypt for follow-up talks.
  • The biggest sticking point remains Hamas' demand that thousands of Palestinian prisoners be released as part of any deal. Biden had already told Netanyahu that Israel may have to release more Palestinian prisoners for each freed hostage than it did in the previous pause in fighting, though Biden agrees Hamas' current demand is too much, according to officials.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with the White House's readout of the call.

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