Biden pushes for six-week 'pause' in Gaza war as part of hostage deal

Jordan's King Abdullah II warns an Israeli invasion of Rafah would cause a humanitarian catastrophe

Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks at the White House alongside President Joe Biden on Monday. AP
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President Joe Biden on Monday said his administration is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas that would halt fighting in Gaza for at least six weeks.

Mr Biden, who was speaking from the White House after meeting Jordan's King Abdullah II, also said Israel should not invade Rafah without "a credible plan" to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians.

Mr Biden said he, King Abdullah and others in the region were working "day and night" for a deal that would bring "hostages home, ease the humanitarian crisis and end the terror threat, and to bring peace to Gaza and Israel".

Key elements of the deal "are on the table, but gaps remain", he said, noting that the Israel-Gaza war was the "front and centre" issue in the Middle East and beyond.

The meeting marks King Abdullah's fourth visit to the White House since Mr Biden became President in 2021.

A US-backed deal would mark the second humanitarian pause.

Aid supplies would enter the besieged Gaza Strip and hostages held by Hamas would be released in exchange for Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

Such a pause “would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm into Gaza for at least six weeks, which we could then take the time to build something more enduring", Mr Biden said.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is preparing for a major military operation in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, where an estimated 1.3 million people have been forced to flee.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it would not support any such plans as it would spell disaster for the Palestinian civilians who have sought refuge there.

King Abdullah warned that an attack on Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians displaced from elsewhere in Gaza are seeking refuge, would be "certain" to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.

Jordan's King Abdullah and Joe Biden warn against Israeli plans to attack Rafah

Jordan's King Abdullah and Joe Biden warn against Israeli plans to attack Rafah

“We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah," he said. “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end.”

He said it is imperative for the UN agency for Palestine refugees, the UNRWA, to receive the support it needs to carry out its vital work in Gaza.

Several governments have paused funding after allegations that UNRWA staff members took part in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks against Israel.

King Abdullah was accompanied on his White House visit by Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and ambassador to the US Dina Kawar.

His delegation held an expanded meeting with White House officials before the king's meeting with Mr Biden.

It is the first meeting between the two leaders since a drone strike killed three US troops at a base in Jordan last month.

The Biden administration blamed Iran-backed militant groups for the deaths, the first after months of attacks on US troops and installations in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Israel-Gaza war.

The US responded with air strikes on targets it said were linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria.

It also launched an attack in Baghdad that killed at least one senior figure from an Iraqi militia supported by Iran, increasing concerns that the war in Gaza would spread into a wider regional conflict.

The meeting also comes as Mr Biden faces an increasing backlash from Arab Americans and from his Democratic Party over his support for Israel in its military campaign on Gaza that has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians since October 7, most of them civilians, according to health authorities in Gaza.

At least 93 people were killed overnight in Israeli strikes on Rafah and more than 160 were killed across Gaza, the enclave's Health Ministry said.

Mr Biden last week levelled some of his most direct criticism at Israel, saying the actions of its military have been “over the top”.

Biden says Israel’s response in Gaza is ‘over the top’ – video

Biden says Israel’s response in Gaza is ‘over the top’

Biden says Israel’s response in Gaza is ‘over the top’
Updated: February 13, 2024, 6:34 AM