King Abdullah presses Biden to avert Israel offensive in Rafah

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Jordan’s King Abdullah told US President Joe Biden in a private meeting on Monday that an Israeli offensive in Rafah would lead to a “new massacre” of Palestinian civilians and urged the international community to take urgent action.

“The king warned of the repercussions of the Israeli ground offensive on Rafah, which could cause a regional spillover of the conflict,” a statement from the Jordan royal court said after Abdullah had lunch with Biden at the White House.

Israel carried out airs strikes in Rafah on Monday and told Palestinians to evacuate parts of the city where more than a million people uprooted by the seven-month war are crowded together.

On Sunday, Hamas reiterated its demand for an end to the war in exchange for the freeing of hostages, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flatly ruled that out. Hamas also attacked the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, which Israel said killed three of its soldiers.

In a phone call on Monday, Biden pressed Netanyahu not to go ahead with a large-scale Israeli military offensive in Rafah. The US president has been vocal in his demand that Israel not undertake a ground offensive in Rafah without a plan to protect Palestinian civilians.

The Jordanian statement said Abdullah in his meeting with Biden “warned that the Israeli attack on Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are internally displaced as a result of the war on Gaza, threatens to lead to a new massacre.”

“His Majesty stressed the importance of all efforts that seek an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” it said. “The king and the US president affirmed their commitment to working to reach a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, stressing the importance of facilitating the delivery of sustainable humanitarian aid to the Strip in light of the dire needs.”

The White House said in a separate written statement that the two leaders discussed “the need for an immediate release of the hostages held by Hamas and a sustainable ceasefire that allows for a surge of the urgently needed humanitarian assistance to be delivered safely through Gaza.”

“Both remain committed to achieving a durable, lasting peace to include a pathway to a Palestinian state, with security guarantees for Israel,” the White House statement said.

The Biden administration and Israeli officials remain at odds over Israel’s planned military incursion in the southern Gaza city of Rafah where it told Palestinians to start evacuating some parts on Monday.

Biden last met King Abdullah at the White House in February and the two longtime allies discussed a daunting list of challenges, including the looming Israeli ground offensive in southern Gaza and suffering of Palestinian civilians.

Jordan and other Arab states have been highly critical of Israel’s actions and have been demanding a ceasefire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.

The war began after Hamas stunned Israel with a cross-border raid on Oct. 7 in which 1 200 people were killed and 252 hostages taken, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 34 600 Palestinians have been killed and more than 77 000 wounded in Israel’s assault, according to Gaza’s health ministry.