President Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a private phone call on Tuesday to minimize civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip as violence stemming from Hamas terrorists’ surprise attack on Israel continues.
The Biden administration is coordinating with other countries to provide safe passage out of Gaza for civilians at risk of getting caught in the crossfire as Israel prepares for a potential ground attack.
Civilians in Gaza would escape the fighting through a southern corridor leading into Egypt, administration officials told NBC News.
The phone call on Tuesday was Biden’s most direct plea to Israel regarding efforts to avoid civilian casualties, the officials said.
Biden said during remarks after the phone call that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas and that his administration will commit U.S. military aid to protect the country from future attacks.
“Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond — indeed, has a duty to respond — to these vicious attacks,” he said.
In his speech, the president also addressed questions of whether the U.S. would give Israel the green light to attack Hamas, even in the event of a constant uptick in the civilian death toll. Biden said he told Netanyahu that “if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive and overwhelming.”
“We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law. Terrorists purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war — the law of war. It matters,” Biden added.
International laws of war require proportionality and avoiding indiscriminately killing civilians.
A readout of the call provided by the White House said Biden “underscored the need for all countries to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s brutal atrocities, which are akin to the atrocities of ISIS from many years ago.”
More than 2,000 people have been killed in the war since Hamas launched its attack against Israel on Saturday, leading to retaliatory action from Israeli forces. Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been taken hostage by Hamas and raped, tortured and murdered.
“We’ve never seen such savagery in the history of the state. They’re even worse than ISIS,” Netanyahu said in a video of the call released by his office. “They’re even worse than ISIS, and we need to treat them as such.”
Israel’s cabinet has declared war for the first time in 50 years after Hamas’ largest attack against the Jewish state in decades.
The first shipment of U.S. “advanced ammunition” arrived in Israel on Tuesday on a U.S. aircraft, according to Israeli forces. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House that the U.S. has “surged ammunition and interceptors for [Israel’s] Iron Dome” missile defense system.