Feb 29, 2024 - World

Biden says Gaza aid convoy incident will complicate hostage talks

President Biden at the White House last month. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden at the White House last month. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden told reporters Thursday he "knows" the aid convoy incident in Gaza in which dozens of Palestinians were killed will complicate the negotiations over a hostage deal and a temporary ceasefire.

The big picture: Biden, who also walked back his previous remarks about a possible ceasefire in Gaza by Monday, spoke to reporters shortly after a phone call with the emir of Qatar.

  • A source with knowledge of the call said Biden and the Qatari emir spoke about the hostage talks that have taken place in Doha in the last few days. Biden also spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt and Qatar are mediating the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
  • Biden and Sisi "grieved the loss of civilian lives and agreed that this incident underscored the urgency of bringing negotiations to a close as soon as possible and expanding the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza," the White House said in a readout.
  • Officials previously said minor progress was being made in the hostage talks, though significant gaps remained. The current proposal, if implemented, would lead to Hamas freeing roughly 40 hostages in exchange for a six-week ceasefire and the release of about 400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Driving the news: More than 100 Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others injured in Thursday's incident in northern Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

  • Hamas blamed Israeli forces who opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians, while Israel claimed most of the casualties were the result of Palestinians being trampled as crowds stormed and looted the trucks.
  • Israel said its forces fired at the legs of Palestinians who approached troops. It claimed its initial assessment shows that around 10 Palestinian civilians were hit by the Israeli soldiers' fire.
  • Hamas spokesperson Izzat al-Rishq said the group told the mediators in the hostage talks that "the negotiations are not open-ended and we won't allow it to be used as cover for crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza."

Netanyahu at a press conference in Tel Aviv didn't speak about the aid convoy incident.

  • He said it is too soon to say if a hostage deal is possible and claimed that until now all Israeli negotiating efforts "have hit a brick wall because Hamas isn't even trying to reach a zone of agreement."

What they're saying: White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said the U.S. asked the Israeli government Thursday morning to thoroughly investigate the aid convoy incident and provide more information about the circumstances that led to it.

  • Dalton said the Biden administration urged Israel for weeks to have a viable plan to maintain basic security in areas of Gaza where military operations against Hamas are concluded. "We have yet to see those plans and we are deeply concerned about that. We want to see those plans implemented soon," she said.

Zoom out: The Biden administration has been warning Israel about the breakdown of law and order in the enclave.

  • Due to the breakdown, Israeli restrictions and airstrikes, and other factors, it's become increasingly difficult and dangerous to get aid into the enclave, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, which the UN has warned is on the brink of famine.
  • That's increased concerns that many more Palestinians could die of hunger and diseases if signifcantly more aid isn't allowed in. The Palestinian death toll from the nearly five months of war surpassed 30,000 on Thursday, per Gaza health authorities.

The security concerns and restrictions have led to a bottleneck of aid trucks waiting to enter Gaza through two crossing points, the UN has said. Israel blames the UN for the delay in the movement of the aid.

  • USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who is in the region, said on Wednesday that it was "absolutely clear that as conditions continue to deteriorate in Gaza for the Gazan people, two crossings is not enough."
  • "We are talking to Israeli officials about the need to open up far more crossings, far more passages into Gaza, so that vitally needed humanitarian assistance can be dramatically surged. This is a matter of life and death," she added.

What to watch: U.S. officials previously told Axios that the White House is considering using airdrops to get more aid into Gaza.

  • But the officials admit it would have a limited impact since a U.S. military plane could only drop the equivalent of the amount of aid one or two aid trucks can carry.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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