Biden Urges Netanyahu Against Gaza Offensive Amid Cease-Fire Talks

President Joe Biden reiterated his warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against launching an offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, as Israel appeared to be moving closer to a military operation to root out Hamas militants.

Shortly after Israel announced the evacuation order for about 100,000 Palestinians from Rafah, Hamas stated that it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari proposal for a cease-fire to end the seven-month-long conflict with Israel in Gaza.

Israel has not yet responded to the cease-fire proposal, and details of the agreement have not been disclosed. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, emphasized that the White House is awaiting further information on Hamas’ position and whether it aligns with agreements already approved by Israel and international negotiators.

In recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials have indicated that the cease-fire would occur in stages, with Hamas releasing hostages in exchange for Israeli troop withdrawals from Gaza. Negotiations are ongoing in Qatar.

Top Biden administration officials have publicly urged Hamas to accept what they describe as a generous Israeli offer that could lead to an extended truce, the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and potentially pave the way for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

During a Monday morning phone call with Netanyahu, Biden emphasized U.S. concerns about an offensive in Rafah, where more than 1 million civilians from other parts of Gaza have sought refuge amid the conflict sparked by Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. Biden reaffirmed his belief that reaching a cease-fire with Hamas is the best strategy to protect Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

“The President reiterated his clear position on Rafah,” according to a White House summary of the call.

These developments unfolded as Biden hosted King Abdullah II of Jordan for a private lunch meeting at the White House to discuss the conflict and hostage negotiations.

On Sunday, Netanyahu rebuffed international pressure to halt the conflict in Gaza during a speech commemorating Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day, asserting Israel’s determination to defend itself independently if necessary.

The Israeli military’s order for Palestinians to evacuate Rafah on Monday signaled a potential imminent ground invasion, complicating efforts to broker a cease-fire.

Tensions escalated when Hamas rockets targeted Israeli troops near Gaza’s border, killing four soldiers, while Israeli airstrikes in Rafah claimed the lives of 22 people, including children and infants, according to a hospital report.

Netanyahu assured Biden that Israel would keep the Kerem Shalom crossing open for humanitarian aid deliveries.

Israeli officials briefed Biden administration officials last week on plans to evacuate Palestinian civilians ahead of a potential operation, but U.S. officials maintain concerns about the risks to innocent civilians in Rafah.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the importance of a credible plan for evacuating civilians and maintaining humanitarian aid during any operation in Rafah.

Israeli officials indicated that those ordered to evacuate Rafah would relocate to Muwasi, a nearby Israel-designated humanitarian zone along the coast.