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A key Biden confidant had earlier urged him to use the leverage afforded by the huge military aid that Washington gives Israel - something Biden has resisted for the past six months.

A key Biden confidant had earlier urged him to use the leverage afforded by the huge military aid that Washington gives Israel – something Biden has resisted for the past six months.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

President Joe Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 4 that U.S. policy on Israel depends on the protection of civilians in Gaza, in his strongest hint yet of possible conditions on military aid after an Israeli strike killed seven aid workers.

Hours later, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said it would allow “temporary” aid deliveries through Ashdod and the Erez checkpoint on its border with the northern Gaza Strip.

“This increased aid will prevent a humanitarian crisis and is necessary to ensure the continuation of the fighting and to achieve the goals of the war,” said the statement.

In Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu’s first call since the deaths of the employees of the U.S.-based World Central Kitchen group on Monday, Mr. Biden also called for an “immediate ceasefire” after the “unacceptable” attack and wider humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Democrat Biden is facing growing pressure in an election year over his support for Israel’s Gaza war – with allies pressing him to consider making the billions of dollars in military aid sent by the United States to its key ally each year dependent on Mr. Netanyahu listening to calls for restraint.

Mr. Biden “made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers”, the White House said in a readout of the call.

Also read | Israel’s Netanyahu says Biden ‘wrong’ in critique of war policy

“He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps.”

A key Biden confidant had earlier urged him to use the leverage afforded by the huge military aid that Washington gives Israel – something Biden has resisted for the past six months.

“I think we’re at that point,” Chris Coons, a Democratic senator from the president’s home state of Delaware, told CNN.

If Israel began its long-threatened full-scale offensive in the southern city of Rafah, without plans for some 1.5 million people sheltering there, “I would vote to condition aid to Israel,” Mr. Coons said.

“I’ve never said that before, I’ve never been there before,” he added.

Mr. Biden also reportedly faces pressure from even closer to home — from First Lady Jill Biden.

“Stop it, stop it now,” she told the president about the growing toll of civilian casualties in Gaza, according to comments by Mr. Biden himself to a guest during a meeting with members of the Muslim community at the White House, and reported by The New York Times.

Also read | Aid group halts food delivery in Gaza after Israeli strike kills seven workers

‘Outraged and heartbroken’

Mr. Biden has supported Israel’s six-month-old war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has increasingly voiced frustration with Israel’s right-wing premier over the soaring death toll and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In his strongest statement since the war began, he said that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by Israel’s killing of the seven aid workers, who included a U.S.-Canadian citizen.

Israel has said the deaths were “unintentional”.

But Mr. Biden’s words have not been matched by any concrete steps to limit the billions of dollars in military aid that Washington supplies to its bedrock regional ally.

In a sign of business as usual, Biden’s administration approved the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel on the same day as the Israeli strikes that killed the seven aid workers, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Many Democrats fear the controversy could hurt Biden’s chances of re-election in November against Republican Donald Trump, as Muslim and younger voters express their anger over Gaza.

A former senior aide to Barack Obama – the president under whom Biden served as vice president – called for Biden’s actions to back his words.

“The U.S. government is still supplying 2 thousand pound bombs and ammunition to support Israel’s policy,” Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security advisor in Obama’s administration, wrote on X.

“Until there are substantive consequences, this outrage does nothing. Bibi (Netanyahu) obviously doesn’t care what the U.S. says, its about what the U.S. does.”

U.S. voters are also increasingly turning against Israel’s Gaza offensive.

A majority of 55% now disapprove of Israel’s actions, compared to 36% who approve, according to a Gallup poll released on March 27.

He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps

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