Middle East

Biden discusses hostage deal, reiterates ‘clear position’ on Rafah invasion in phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday

By Priscilla Alvarez, Sam Fossum and Jack Forrest, CNN

CNN  — 

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday primarily discussed the release of hostages in Gaza, a source familiar with their phone call said.

A White House readout of the call earlier Sunday said Biden had reiterated his “clear position” on a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah. While that was part of the call, which lasted just under an hour, the source said the focus was mostly on the talks to release hostages held by Hamas.

The two leaders discussed the videos released last week of two Americans held hostage as well as Biden’s rare joint statement with leaders from 17 other countries, urging Hamas to accept the terms of the ceasefire and hostage deal, the source said.

The White House also highlighted the two leaders’ conversation about humanitarian assistance. “The President and the Prime Minister also discussed increases in the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza including through preparations to open new northern crossings starting this week,” according to the readout.

The White House added, “The President stressed the need for this progress to be sustained and enhanced in full coordination with humanitarian organizations. The leaders discussed Rafah and the President reiterated his clear position.”

The Biden administration has made clear to its Israeli counterparts that it wants to see a clear and actionable plan on how they would protect civilians in Rafah.

Israel has told its US counterparts that it won’t launch an invasion where more than 1 million people are sheltering in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city until the Biden administration can share its concerns, White House National Security communications adviser John Kirby told ABC on Sunday.

Kirby said the US is still working on reaching an agreement that would include a temporary ceasefire and the release of hostages.

“If we’re able to get this hostage deal in place — and we are still working at that, Hamas has not fully rejected it, they are considering this proposal on the table. If we can get that in place, then that gives you six weeks of peace. It gives you no fighting for six weeks, and that includes no fighting in Rafah,” Kirby said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“And what we’re hoping is that after six weeks of a temporary ceasefire, we can maybe get something more enduring in place. We want to see an end to the conflict as soon as possible,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in the region this week to discuss with leaders the ceasefire and hostage talks between Israel and Hamas that remain stalled despite months of mediation by Qatar and Egypt.

During his conversation with Netanyahu on Sunday, Biden also reaffirmed his “ironclad” commitment to Israel.

The call took place just days after Biden signed into law an aid package that includes $26 billion for Israel. The package also includes nearly $61 billion in aid to Ukraine and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

“The President reaffirmed his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security following the successful defense against Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attack earlier this month,” according to the White House.

In a phone call between the two leaders earlier this month, Biden told Netanyahu that the overall humanitarian situation in Gaza is unacceptable and warned Israel to take steps to address the crisis or face consequences — a stark statement from Israel’s staunchest ally.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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