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Biden says Gaza fighting 'over the top,' pushing for a pause

2 min

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday suggested that Israel's military response in Gaza has been "over the top" and said he is seeking a "sustained pause in the fighting" to help ailing Palestinian civilians.

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2024. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday suggested that Israel's military response in Gaza has been "over the top" and said he is seeking a "sustained pause in the fighting" to help ailing Palestinian civilians.

"I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top," Biden told reporters at the White House.

He added that he has been pushing for a deal to normalize Saudi Arabia-Israel relations, increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and a temporary pause in fighting to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

"I'm pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire," Biden said. "There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it's gotta stop."

The remarks, some of Biden's sharpest public criticism to date of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, come as the Democratic president has come under increasing domestic pressure to press Israel to stop fighting.

The White House did not respond to a request to elaborate on Biden's remarks.

In the aftermath of Israel's initial attacks, Biden was criticized for making remarks describing the death of innocent Palestinians as "the price of waging a war."

Israel began its military offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Gaza's health ministry says more than 27,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

There has been one truce to date, lasting a week at the end of November.

Saudi Arabia has told the U.S. there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem, and Israeli "aggression" on the Gaza Strip stops, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Israel's Netanyahu has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state.

On Thursday, Israeli forces bombed areas in the southern border city of Rafah where more than half of Gaza's population is sheltering, as diplomats sought to salvage ceasefire talks after Netanyahu rejected a Hamas proposal.

Biden said that he hoped a deal to get hostages released could lead to a temporary pause in fighting that gets extended.

He also suggested that Hamas launched the October attack to prevent a broad deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but added that "I have no proof."

Explaining his response to the crisis, Biden appeared to mix up the details of his diplomatic efforts, calling Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the leader of Mexico.

"Initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in, Biden said.

"I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side."

Biden is running for re-election in November and is relying on the support of younger voters and those from ethnic and religious minorities who favor Democrats to win what is expected to be a closely contested election with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt

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