Biden to visit Israel as Gaza humanitarian crisis worsens
PHOTO CAPTION: U.S. President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Humeyra Pamuk and Nidal al-Mughrabi
TEL AVIV/GAZA (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday to show support for its war on Hamas after Washington said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to let humanitarian aid reach besieged Gazans.
Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that controls Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed 1,300 people, mainly civilians, during a rampage through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7 - the deadliest single day in Israel's 75-year history.
Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip with air strikes that have killed more than 2,800 Palestinians, a quarter of them children, and driven around half of the 2.3 million Gazans from their homes. It has imposed a total blockade on the enclave, halting food, fuel and medical supplies, which are rapidly running out.
Scores of trucks carrying vital supplies for Gaza headed towards the Rafah crossing in Egypt on Tuesday, the only access point to the coastal enclave outside Israel's control, but there was no clear indication that they would be able to enter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Biden's planned visit at the end of hours of talks with Netanyahu, in which he said Netanyahu had agreed to develop a plan to get humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians. He gave no details.
Biden will "hear from Israel what it needs to defend its people," Blinken said. He will also hear how Israel will carry out operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and lets humanitarian aid into Gaza to help civilians "in a way that does not benefit Hamas".
Washington is also trying to rally Arab states to help head off a wider regional war after Iran pledged "preemptive action" from its allies which include the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
After Israel, Biden is expected to travel to Jordan to meet King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
He will also meet Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which exerts limited self rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. The PA on Tuesday accused Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
LIFTING RUBBLE WITH BARE HANDS
In Jabalia, in the northern half of the Gaza Strip that Israel has ordered evacuated, frantic residents used their bare hands to lift chunks of concrete and metal, crying out when they located bodies from under rubble in a smoking bombing crater. Others ran with stretchers carrying the wounded.
A man emerged from a ruined building holding the limp body of a small boy in his arms.
Residents fleeing the north have crammed into southern areas such as Khan Younis but have found no respite from bombing there.
Amin Hneideq awoke to an explosion in Khan Younis that sent the window crashing down, lacerating his daughter's head. The bomb had missed his house but destroyed a home nearby, killing a family from the north that had sought shelter there.
"They brought them from the north just to strike them in the south," said Hneideq, weeping.
The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said only around 14 percent of Gazans had access to water through a single pipe to Khan Younis that Israel allowed to open for three hours on Monday.
Concerns about dehydration and diseases were high as water and sanitation services had collapsed.
"People will start dying without water," UNRWA said.
Israel says 199 hostages were taken to Gaza during the militants' raid. Hamas released a video of one French-Israeli hostage, Maya Schem, calling on world leaders to help her and other captives get home.
Israel's military called the video "psychological terror against Israeli citizens", and France called it "vile". Schem's mother told a press conference she was "begging the world to bring my baby back home".
In addition to trying to get aid through the Rafah crossing, Washington also wants it opened to let out Gazans with foreign passports, including several hundred Palestinian Americans. Some Gazans with dual nationality tried to reach Rafah on Tuesday but said it was impossible because of Israeli air strikes.
Even if the crossing opens, most Gazans will not be let out. Egypt has said it could allow medical evacuations but rejects any mass exodus, which it says would amount to an expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
CLASHES IN ISRAEL'S NORTH
Cross-border fighting has also intensified on a second front on Israel's northern border with Lebanon. Clashes there have been the deadliest since the last full-blown war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah group 17 years ago.
The Israeli military said on Tuesday it had killed four people who had tried to cross the border to plant explosives. Security sources in Lebanon said four people had been killed by Israeli shelling near the village of Alma Al-Shaab on the Lebanese side of the frontier.
Israel ordered the evacuation on Monday of 28 of its villages near the Lebanese border.
Iran, which sponsors both Hamas and Hezbollah, has celebrated the Hamas attacks on Israel but denies being behind them. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state TV that "preemptive action" would be taken against Israel in the coming hours.
"We cannot be indifferent to the war crimes committed against the people of Gaza," Amirabdollahian said.
There has also been an intensification of deadly clashes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, already engulfed in its worst unrest for years before the Hamas attacks from Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Bassam Massoud and Nuha Sharaf in Gaza, Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Henriette Chacar, Dedi Hayun, Maayan Lubell, Emily Rose, James Mackenzie and John Davison in Jerusalem, Humeyra Pamuk in Tel Avivi, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Hatem Maher, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Abdel-Razek in Cairo, Trevor Hunnicutt, Nandita Bose, Rami Ayyub and Katharine Jackson in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United NationsWriting by David Brunnstrom, Stephen Coates and Peter Graff; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alexandra Hudson)