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War on Gaza: Biden calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire in talk with Israel's Netanyahu

The US president said earlier this week he would not call for a permanent ceasefire until all Israeli hostages are released from Gaza
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on 18 October 2023.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, on 18 October 2023 (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call where Biden told the Israeli leader that an "immediate ceasefire is essential" to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, according to a readout by the White House.

The remarks come after an Israeli air strike targeted an aid convoy and killed seven aid workers with the international charity, World Central Kitchen, resulting in widespread condemnation including from the Biden administration.

"[Biden] underscored that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and he urged the Prime Minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home," the readout said.

The US president said in his call with Netanyahu that the killing of the aid workers was "unacceptable" and called on Israel to implement steps to "address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers".

Biden appeared to make a threat that Washington would condition its support for Israel's war, with the White House saying that he"made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps".

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White House spokesperson John Kirby declined to speak on any specific changes the administration would make in its policy toward Israel, but said that Washington hopes Israel will provide the steps in the "coming hours and days".

While on a visit to Brussels, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said regarding Israel: "If we don't see the changes that we need to see, there'll be changes in our policy".

Biden has for decades described himself as a Zionist and fervently supported Israel over the past six months of the war on Gaza.

However, as the death toll continued to rise in the tens of thousands, pressure began emerging from US lawmakers to call for a ceasefire and condition arms shipments to Israel.

Growing US pressure on Biden

The tone of the readout marked a significant shift in Biden's public remarks about Israel's conduct in its war in Gaza.

While the Biden administration has largely refrained from using harsh language towards Israel's war, where Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, the killing of the aid workers saw the president use harsher words to describe Israel's actions.

However, in a meeting with several Muslim and Arab Americans on Tuesday, Biden stressed that he would not call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza until all of the Israeli hostages are released by Hamas.

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Whether the killing of the World Central Kitchen aid workers will lead to a policy shift as well remains to be seen, with Biden and administration officials saying that they will continue to provide arms to Israel.

US officials told the Wall Street Journal that the administration has authorised the transfer to Israel of more than 1,000 500-pound bombs and over 1,000 small-diameter bombs, and that the president is not expected to impose any restrictions on providing Israel with weapons or how Israel uses those weapons.

Biden is also facing growing electoral pressure ahead of a presidential election that will see him face a rematch against former US President Donald Trump in November.

Public disapproval of the president's response and handling of the war continues to grow, most recently shown in the Wisconsin primary election.

Biden easily secured victory in the Democratic primary election this week, however, around 48,000 people voted "uninstructed" as a protest vote, equal to eight percent of the total vote.

Biden only won the state of Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes.

The numbers align with previous primary elections this year, including in Michigan where more than 100,000 people voted "uncommitted" and in Minnesota where nearly 45,000 people voted "uncommitted".

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