Palestinians walk by a residential building destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 11, 2024. | Hatem Ali/AP
President Joe Biden on Sunday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s planned ground invasion in Rafah “should not proceed” without a plan to ensure the safety of the more than 1 million people living there, according to the White House.
During the conversation, Biden and Netanyahu reaffirmed their “shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people,” and discussed efforts to release the remaining hostages held by Hamas, according to a readout of the call.
“He also called for urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians. And he reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,” the readout said.
The Biden administration, aid agencies and other world leaders have urged Netanyahu to call off his plans to invade the southern Gaza city, which had a population of roughly 280,000, before the war but is now home to more than 1.4 million people who have fled south to avoid Israel’s military offensive.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”
“The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air,” she posted on X.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby previously warned the U.S. would not support Israel’s assault on the region, saying that a military operation would be a “disaster” for civilians there. In an interview with NPR, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that a military operation in the city “cannot proceed” under current conditions.
Biden has been relatively unwavering in his support for Israel, and has a longstanding relationship with Netanyhu, who has been prime minister off and on since the 1990s. But last week he criticized Israel’s response to the deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas as “over the top.”
Netanyahu has pushed back on the criticism, saying that an Israeli victory over Hamas is “within reach.”
“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war, keep Hamas there,” he said during an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”