Biden calls for ‘pause’ in Israel-Hamas war after being heckled by rabbi demanding ceasefire

Democrats fear Biden’s handling of Israel-Hamas conflict could cost him 2024 elections

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 02 November 2023 06:07 EDT

Related Death toll rises in Gaza

Joe Biden was interrupted during a campaign speech in Minneapolis by a rabbi who called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The US president said in response a humanitarian “pause” was needed to allow the release of Israeli hostages. He said the situation was “incredibly complicated” for both Israelis and the Muslim world amid Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.

But Mr Biden stopped short on calling for a full Israeli ceasefire in Gaza.

“Mr President, if you care about Jewish people, as a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire,” the protester said.

Mr Biden responded, “I think we need a pause. A pause means give time to get the prisoners out”.

White House officials clarified later that the president was referring to a “pause” in the fighting in order to allow time to free hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and allow humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.

Israel began an assault on Gaza on 7 October following Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 people. The militants also took 240 people hostage. Israeli defence forces last week launched unprecedented ground operations in the Gaza Strip, with tanks, artillery and Israeli forces entering to carry out air and ground attacks.

More than 8,700 civilians have been killed since Israel’s bombing began, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza Strip, said, with children and young people making most of the fatalities.

US President Joe Biden speaks about his Bidenomics agenda at Dutch Creek Farms in Northfield, Minnesota

The call for “pause” in conflict marked a subtle departure as the White House earlier said it will not dictate to Israelis how to carry out their military operations against Hamas.

But the position appears to be changing amid widespread protests against the growing humanitarian crisis and rising civilian death toll in Gaza in the US and other countries as Mr Biden prepares for 2024 reelection bid.

Around 1,000 demonstrators gathered near where a campaign fundraiser was organised and they held Palestinian flags and signs that said "Stop Bombing Children," "Free Palestine" and "Ceasefire now."

"This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis," Mr Biden said after he was interrupted. "It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well. ... I supported a two-state solution, I have from the very beginning."

But Mr Biden noted that he had been working on humanitarian aid, saying he was the one who convinced both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to allow aid into Gaza.

"I’m the guy," he said.

Israeli forces this week bombed Gaza’s biggest refugee camp in Jabalia, killing at least 195 people with a further 120 still missing under the rubble, a Hamas-run government media office said.

At least 777 more were wounded, the office said.

This combination of handout satellite images released by Maxar Technology and created shows before and after of Jabalia refugee camp

Israeli defence forces said the group had command centres and other “terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings, intentionally endangering Gazan civilians”.

However, UN human rights officials said strikes on the camp could be a “war crime”.

“Given the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction following Israeli air strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

Gaza has become a graveyard of children, UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) spokesperson James Elder said in Geneva on Wednesday.

“Our gravest fears about the reported numbers of children killed becoming dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands were realised in just a fortnight,” Mr Elder said.

“The numbers are appalling; reportedly more than 3,450 children killed; staggeringly this rises significantly every day.”

“Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It’s a living hell for everyone else.”

Mr Biden’s remarks also come as several Democrats have warned that the Biden administration’s handling of conflict would cost him the support of Arab American community in the 2024 elections.

In recent days, largescale pro-Palestinian protests have hit American cities, including New York’s Grand Central station last week, with several protesters detained.

“The message has been relayed. We’ve had calls with the White House. We’ve had calls with DNC officials,” said Abraham Aiyash, the third-ranking Democrat in the state House of Representatives, referring to the Democratic National Committee.

“We’ve been clear in saying the humanity should matter, but if that is not a calculation that you’re going to make in this moment, recognize that there will be electoral reverberations to this.”

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