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Watch: US says Israel must make changes in the coming “hours and days”

By Graeme Baker & Tom Bateman
BBC News, Washington DC

The US has told Israel that its ongoing support on the Gaza war is dependent on “specific, concrete steps” to boost aid and prevent civilian deaths.

President Joe Biden spoke to Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff on Monday.

Israel apologised for a “grave mistake” but WCK founder José Andrés said his workers were systematically targeted.

Mr Biden faces pressure to rein in unconditional military aid for Israel.

In a readout of the telephone call between the two leaders, which lasted less than 30 minutes, the White House said that the president “emphasised that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable”.

“He made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers,” the summary said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken mirrored the White House statement when he said that if the US did not see changes from Israel, then there would be a change of US policy.

Responding to a question of whether that could affect arms shipments to Israel, the White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he did not want to “preview the steps and decisions” that were yet to be made.

He added that the US expected Israel to improve conditions in Gaza within “hours and days”.

Mr Kirby however stated that US support for “Israel’s self-defence remains iron-clad. The United States isn’t going to walk away from helping Israel defend itself”.

“That said, you can say all that and… still believe that the manner in which they’re defending themselves against the Hamas threat needs to change.”

Israel has yet to comment on the US statements. However, Raquela Karamson, government spokeswoman said before the Biden-Netanyahu call that Israel would “certainly adjust our practices in the future to make sure this does not happen again”.

The US statements are the most strident issued so far on Israel – reflecting President Biden’s “outrage” at the killing of the World Central Kitchen workers, and signalling that there is a limit to US support.

The statement however does not set out which “US policy” areas will be affected – but the bedrock to the US-Israel relationship is the supply of weapons.

Mr Biden’s call with Mr Netanyahu came as the president faced rising domestic anger at Israel’s conduct in Gaza, and growing demands from within his party to place conditions on arms transfers.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a Biden confidant and member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he would “vote to condition aid to Israel” if Mr Netanyahu launched his long-threatened offensive on Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are camped, and made “no provision for civilians or for humanitarian aid”.

“I’ve never said that before, I’ve never been here before,” Mr Coons told CNN on Thursday. “I’ve been a strong supporter of Israel the whole time I’ve served in Congress.

“The challenge is to make it clear that we support the Israeli people… but that the tactics by which the current prime minister is making these decisions don’t reflect the best values of Israel or of the United States.”

Seven charity workers were killed in the Israeli attack on Monday

Mr Biden has sharpened his rhetoric over Israel’s conduct in the nearly six-month-old war sparked by Hamas’s 7 October attack, and voiced his growing frustration with Mr Netanyahu.

However, military supplies including bombs, missiles and ammunition have continued to flow from the US to Israel interrupted.

Mr Biden on Tuesday said that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths of the seven WCK workers, but added that it was “not a stand-alone incident” in a war where many aid workers had been killed.

He said Israel’s promised investigation into the strike “must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public”.

Democratic congressman Jim McGovern, of Massachusetts, said that Mr Biden’s call and warning to Israel on Thursday was “quite frankly insufficient”.

“Simply expressing your deep concern over the terrible tragedy… quite frankly is insufficient. I welcome the shift in tone by President Biden. I think he’s deeply troubled by this but I’m not sure Benjamin Netanyahu will be moved by words. President Biden has leverage and he ought to use that leverage.”

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, more than 33,000 people – mostly women and children – have been killed in the war. The conflict was sparked by Hamas’s killing of more than 1,200 people in Israel and the taking of 240 hostages in its attack on 7 October.

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