President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday in their first call since Biden delivered his strongest rebuke yet of Israel’s military operations in Gaza, with Biden calling the Israeli forces’ actions “over the top.”
In their Sunday call, Biden told Netanyahu a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where many Palestinians have fled to for safety, “should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring” civilian safety, the White House said in a statement.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has sought refuge in Rafah after being displaced from their homes since Israel’s military offensive began, according to the United Nations.
When asked about Biden’s remark in a Sunday interview with ABC News’ “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl, Netanyahu said, “I don’t know exactly what he [Biden] meant by that, but put yourself in Israel’s shoes. We were attacked. … I think we’ve responded in a way that goes after the terrorists and tries to minimize the civilian population.”
A senior administration official told reporters that Biden’s “over the top” comment was “not specifically addressed” during the two leaders’ call on Sunday. Biden instead reiterated that he wants to see Hamas defeated, though it “must be done while ensuring that operations are … conducted in a way that ensures innocents are protected to the extent possible,” the official said.
When pressed on if Israel has indicated whether moving more than 1 million civilians in Rafah out of harm’s way is feasible, the senior official said that Israel has “made clear they would not contemplate an operation without it.”
The official added that plans to get enough U.S.-procured flour to feed nearly 1.5 million Gazan residents over six months are “coming along,” but that logistical issues need to be worked out.
In Biden’s nearly 45-minute phone call with Netanyahu, the two leaders spent about two-thirds of the conversation discussing the ongoing hostage deal negotiations, the senior official said.
The official said a framework for the hostage deal, which has been “a primary focus” for Biden over the last month, is now in place, though there are gaps that need to be worked through. Later, the official conceded that some of those gaps are “significant,” but said progress has been made in the last three weeks.
-ABC News’ Fritz Farrow