Biden has “tough questions” for Netanyahu, and Gaza strike upends his trip to Israel

ABOARD AIR FORCE OCTOBER 17 (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden will ask “tough questions” in his meetings with Israeli leaders during a tour of the Middle East that was turned upside down by a raid on a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday in which hundreds of Palestinians participated. were killed.

Biden is traveling to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and show American support in the wake of an attack launched by Hamas militants in Gaza on Israeli villages and military bases that led to the killing of hundreds of people on October 7.

After his meetings in Israel, Biden intended to travel to Jordan to hold meetings with Arab leaders, but that visit was canceled after the attack on the hospital, which Palestinian officials blamed on Israel and which Israel accused the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement of blaming.

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Air Force One during the flight to Tel Aviv that Biden will meet with Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet and seek to learn about Israel’s plans and goals in the coming days and weeks.

“He’s going to ask some tough questions,” Kirby said. “He’s going to ask them as a friend, as a true friend of Israel, but he’s going to ask them some questions.”

Israel is expected to launch a ground attack on Gaza. The United States is pressuring the Israelis to allow humanitarian aid to enter to help civilians.

Kirby declined to specify the nature of the questions Biden intends to ask other than “what their plans are going forward.”

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Biden will also meet with Israeli first responders and families of those who lost loved ones in the deadly Hamas attack or whose family members were taken hostage.

Biden is also scheduled to make public statements during his visit.

But the hospital explosion may overshadow the trip.

Gaza authorities say the Israeli army is responsible for the bombing; The Israeli authorities denied their involvement in the attack, which occurred during a large-scale Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas attacks on October 7.

Biden left Washington earlier Tuesday in what was supposed to be a complex diplomatic mission, aimed at showing support for Israel, a longtime US ally, calming the region and supporting humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

It was not clear what he could achieve in the wake of the hospital bombing, conflicting reports about responsibility and the cancellation of the summit in Jordan.

“This kind of ambiguous and horrific event makes diplomacy more difficult and increases the risk of escalation,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at the International Crisis Group.

“Biden’s visit was meant to emphasize that the United States has the situation under control. A tragic incident like this shows how difficult it is to keep a war under control.”

Biden was originally expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, then head to Amman to meet with Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Failure to meet with Abbas or any Palestinian official, while meeting with Israelis on their soil, could undermine Biden’s diplomatic message and spark criticism at home and abroad. The United States relies heavily on Egypt to assist in humanitarian efforts.

After the hospital explosion, Biden’s efforts so far in the war between Israel and Hamas have been criticized by US Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress.

“This is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire and help de-escalate,” said Tlaib, a previously silent Democrat. “Your single-minded approach to war and destruction has opened the eyes of many Palestinian Americans and Muslim Americans like me.” Criticism of Biden’s policy, according to a post on the social media platform X.

More than 70 religious and activist groups, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest American Muslim civil rights group, called on Biden to demand a ceasefire in Gaza during his visit.

(This story has been corrected to specify that Israel blamed Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, in paragraph 3)

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Michelle Nichols, Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason; Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates

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