Biden warns Israel not to occupy Gaza | ET REALITY


President Biden warned Israel in an interview broadcast Sunday not to reoccupy Gaza, his first significant public effort to rein in the U.S. ally following the Hamas attack that killed more than 1,300 people, including at least 29 Americans.

Biden has offered unwavering support to Israel since the Oct. 7 attack and refused to criticize Israel for its retaliatory siege of Gaza, the coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, even as U.N. officials warned of a humanitarian crisis there. But in the new interview she warned against a full-scale occupation of Gaza.

“I think it would be a big mistake,” Biden told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in a conversation recorded Thursday and broadcast Sunday night. “Look, what happened in Gaza, in my opinion, is that Hamas and the extremist elements of Hamas do not represent all the Palestinian people. And I think it would be a mistake for Israel to reoccupy Gaza.” But “eliminating extremists” there, he added, “is a necessary requirement.”

The president’s comments came as he was considering visiting Israel in the coming days to show solidarity with Israelis still recovering from the Hamas attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended the invitation to the president over the weekend, according to an administration official, confirming an Israeli television report, but Biden has not yet decided whether he will go at this time.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden did not explicitly say whether Israel should send ground forces to Gaza temporarily. But he supported the goal of destroying Hamas, an organization whose founding pact encompasses “killing the Jews” and exterminate Israel. The United States and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist group.

“Israel has to respond,” Biden said. “They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a group of cowards. They hide behind civilians. They put their headquarters where there are civilians, buildings and things like that.” But he said he was convinced that “the Israelis will do everything in their power to prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians.”

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas won elections the following year. The group took full control of the enclave and ousted more moderate Palestinian leaders, such as those who run the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Over the past 18 years, Hamas and its more radical counterparts have occasionally carried out attacks against Israel, sparking several short wars. Israeli forces, who blockade Gaza, re-entered the territory by land in 2009 and 2014, but chose not to stay in both cases.

Many military analysts have said that a ground offensive in Gaza and the resulting urban warfare could be extremely dangerous for both Israeli forces and Palestinian civilians. But after the deadliest attack on Israel in decades, Israeli leaders argue that they cannot simply respond with the usual airstrikes and have decided to crush Hamas once and for all. Israel has mobilized 360,000 reservists and gathered considerable forces near Gaza in preparation for what is expected to be an invasion.

Even before any ground offensive, Israeli airstrikes and its decision to cut off food, water and other supplies have created what international aid organizations have called a humanitarian crisis. At least 2,670 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, and another 9,600 have been injured.

Biden has refused to criticize Israel and has repeatedly said he had the right to defend himself against what he called “pure evil.” In the “60 Minutes” interview, he expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and said he favored creating a safe corridor for Palestinians to flee the fighting and allow in supplies. But he did not frame those comments as critical of Israel.

“I am sure that Israel will act under” the “rules of war,” he said. “There are standards by which democratic institutions and countries are governed. That is why I am confident that the innocent people of Gaza will have the possibility of accessing medicine, food and water.”

Asked if he agreed that Hamas should be eliminated completely, Biden said: “Yes, I do. But there needs to be a Palestinian Authority. “There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”

Scott Pelley, the interviewer, asked the president if, given the wars in Ukraine and now the Middle East, along with the dysfunction in Congress, he still wanted to run for a second term.

“Yes,” Biden responded, saying he still had big projects to carry out and citing his negotiations to establish normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a goal that appears to be in jeopardy after the Hamas attack. “Imagine if we could get relations in the Middle East to normalize,” she said. “I think we can do that.”

He added: “Imagine what would happen if, in fact, we united all of Europe and Putin was finally suppressed where he cannot cause the kind of problems he has been causing. “We have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make this a better world.”

David E. Sanger contributed with reports.

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