WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said in an MSNBC interview on Saturday that Israel’s threatened invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza would be his red line for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but then immediately backtracked, saying there was no red line and “I’m never going to leave Israel.”

In a somewhat contradictory exchange with his interviewer, Biden said “they cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after” Hamas fighters.

Biden and his aides have urged Netanyahu in strong terms not to launch a major offensive in Rafah until Israel crafts a plan for mass evacuation of civilians from the last area of Gaza it has not yet invaded with ground forces. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area.

There’s other ways to deal, to get to, to deal with ... the trauma caused by Hamas, Biden said.

Asked whether an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a red line for him with Netanyahu, Biden said: “It is a red line but I’m never going to leave Israel.

The defence of Israel is still critical. So there’s no red line (in which) I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

Biden insisted, however, that Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.” He reiterated his call for a six-week ceasefire for prisoner releases and aid delivery, though negotiations appear to have stalled.

Asked whether a ceasefire could still be reached before Ramazan, which begins on or around March 10, Biden said: “I think it’s always possible. I never give up on that.”

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2024

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