/ 19 October 2023

Sky-high tensions greet Biden in Israel

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The Squiz

US President Joe Biden has jetted into Tel Aviv and already departed after “an extraordinary wartime trip” for talks with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and the nation’s military leaders. As for who Biden’s not meeting – that would be the leaders from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Those meetings were cancelled soon after the bombing of the al-Ahli Arab hospital in northern Gaza yesterday – the Hamas-run Health Ministry says 471 Palestinians were killed and wounded 314 more.

So tell me about this bombing…

It’s the deadliest single incident in Gaza in the last couple of weeks, with the World Health Organization describing it as “unprecedented in scale”. Hamas has blamed an Israeli airstrike, while the Israeli military is pointing to a rocket misfired by other Palestinian militants. Biden weighed in overnight as he spoke alongside Netanyahu – he said that “based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team”, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was named by Israel as responsible. Pro-Palestine protesters aren’t buying it with demonstrations kicking off in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Iran, Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey.

Given all that, what did Biden’s visit achieve?

It’s a good question, but there has been progress on getting aid into Gaza – Netanyahu’s office says that Israel “will not thwart humanitarian supplies from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine for the civilian population in the southern Gaza Strip”. But – and it’s a big but – Israel will “not allow any humanitarian aid from its territory to the Gaza Strip as long as our hostages are not returned.” And just on the Israeli hostages, Biden said there is “no higher priority” than securing the safe return of the 199 Israelis taken by Hamas. Reports say the US is working with Qatar as a go-between with Hamas in negotiations to secure their return. Wrapping up, Biden urged caution. “While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” he told Israelis, adding that after the 9/11 attacks “we sought justice, got justice, but we also made mistakes”.

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