Israel Palestine Conflict

Biden urges Israel to protect civilians, concerned about ‘extremist settlers’

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US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Israel has the right to respond to the October 7 Hamas attack but must do everything it can to protect civilians.

Biden told a press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that he “did not demand” that Israel delay a ground invasion of Gaza.

“Israel has a right and I would add responsibility to respond to the slaughter of its people,” Biden told reporters in the Rose Garden at the White House.

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Biden accused Gaza’s rulers Hamas of “hiding behind” Palestinian civilians, as Israel bombards the enclave, but said Israel must follow the “laws of war.”

“Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians. It’s difficult,” he said.

Biden also expressed concern about “extremist settlers” attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, saying they must “stop now.”

“That’s pouring gasoline on the fire,” he said. “They’re attacking Palestinians in places that they’re entitled, and... it has to stop now.”

Israel has been bombarding Gaza since October 7 when Hamas gunmen poured across the border, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 222 others, officials say, in the worst attack in Israel’s history.

So far more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians, in the Israeli retaliatory strikes, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.

Biden however cast doubt on civilian casualty figures put forward by the Palestinians.

“I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s a price of waging war,” he said.

“But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”

US media have meanwhile reported that Biden has pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold off on a ground invasion of Gaza while Hamas still holds hostages, but Biden denied it.

“What I have indicated to him is that if that’s possible to get these folks out safely, that’s what he should do. It’s their decision,” Biden said.

“But I did not demand it. I put it out to him, if it’s real, it should be done.”

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