TEL AVIV: President Joe Biden will make a landmark trip to Israel in an “ironclad” show of US support, as efforts to ease a spiraling humanitarian disaster in Gaza intensify.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the visit as a statement of “solidarity with Israel” and an “ironclad commitment to its security,” just days after Hamas fighters broke through the heavily fortified border, shooting, stabbing and burning to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Biden’s visit will also seek to avert a regional conflagration with Hamas backer Iran, which on Monday warned of a possible “pre-emptive action” against Israel “in the coming hours.”
Repeated fire in recent days along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon has claimed lives on both sides and compounded fears of a regional spillover of the war.
Biden’s visit also comes amid frantic diplomatic efforts to ease the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza after waves of Israeli retaliatory air strikes on the Hamas-ruled enclave.
After Israel, Biden will travel to Jordan where he will meet Jordanian King Abdullah II, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Under relentless Israeli bombardment, thousands of Gazans have died and international agencies warn millions more face dwindling supplies of water, food and fuel — even before a looming Israeli ground invasion.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli military leaders have signaled their intent to destroy Hamas and eradicate the threat it poses after the militant group’s attack which has been likened to 9/11.
Tens of thousands of regular Israeli troops and reservists have amassed at the border waiting for the order to go in.
An Israeli military spokesman said it was unclear how Biden’s visit might change the timing of an Israeli ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Several notable Hamas figures have already been killed in air strikes, including, on Monday, Osama Mazini, who the Israeli Air Force said was part of a top council and “responsible for Hamas prisoners.”
Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organization by the United States and several other Western governments, while Israel has likened it to the Daesh group.
Hamas’s military wing has said the group was holding 200 people, with about 50 more held by other “resistance factions and in other places.”
A video on the Hamas’s official Telegram channel purported to show “one of the prisoners in Gaza” — a young woman speaking Hebrew and receiving treatment to an arm injury.
According to the caption, she was abducted on October 7. The video has not been verified by AFP.
But the air strikes have flattened entire neighborhoods in the blockaded Gaza Strip and killed at least 2,750 people, most of them civilians.
The bombardment, coupled with an Israeli order to evacuate the north of the Gaza Strip that borders Israel, has forced more than a million Palestinians to flee their homes for the south of the enclave since the 10-day conflict began, according to the UN agency serving Palestinian agencies (UNRWA).
International aid agencies have called for aid to urgently be allowed into the territory, and for Gaza’s border with Egypt to be open to allow civilians to leave.
Speaking after marathon talks with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Blinken signaled there was no firm agreement yet on humanitarian relief.
But there was a “commitment” to work on a nascent plan ahead of and during Biden’s visit, he said.
“At our request, the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza,” Blinken said.
He said the two sides were discussing the “possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm’s way.”
Blinken said the US president hopes to “hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”
Israel has issued an ultimatum to more than one million people in northern Gaza that they should flee ahead of an expected ground offensive.