Jordan’s King Abdullah II appealed for a full ceasefire to end the Gaza war after talks with Joe Biden, striking a discordant note with the US president who is seeking a shorter six-week pause to give Israel time to defeat Hamas.
Speaking at the White House, the two leaders both warned however against any indiscriminate Israeli ground incursion into Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are trapped.
“We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe,” said the Jordanian monarch, taking the lectern after Biden had spoken first.
“We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now — this war must end,” added Abdullah, who has repeatedly pushed for a full truce to end the conflict that started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.
The United States has angered some Middle East allies by consistently refusing to call for a full ceasefire, with Washington saying that it backs Israel’s drive to defeat Hamas, and calling for shorter pauses with hostage deals instead.
But Biden, who is seeking reelection in November, has started to take a harder line with Israel on civilian casualties, saying last week that Israel’s offensive was “over the top.”
“The United States is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, which would bring in mediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks,” Biden said, adding that key elements were in place but “gaps” remained.
The warring parties could then “take the time to build something more enduring.”
Biden also said civilians sheltering in Rafah, on the Egyptian border, “need to be protected” as Israel considers a ground incursion.
It was Biden and Abdullah’s first face-to-face meeting since the October 7 attack, with the US president hailing his fellow head of state as a key player in a turbulent middle East.
– Volatile region –
Flanked by US and Jordanian flags, Biden and the king had earlier embraced as they met on the front steps of the White House, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, Queen Rania and Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein.
Biden joked during the arrival ceremony that “everybody does” when asked if Benjamin Netanyahu was following his advice on avoiding an offensive in Rafah.
The two leaders also discussed efforts to ensure that the conflict does not spread across a volatile region.
Three US troops were killed in a drone attack on a base in Jordan in January, triggering American airstrikes against Iranian-backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria.
Washington is the first stop of a tour by the Jordanian king that will also take in Canada, France and Germany, amid mounting international efforts for a deal to pause fighting in Gaza and free hostages held there by Hamas.
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel has responded with a relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza that the Palestinian territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says has killed at least 28,340 people, mostly women and children.
Biden on Monday notably referred to the fact that there were “over 27,000 Palestinians killed,” apparently accepting the Palestinian toll having questioned it back in October, and said that “too many” were children.
Biden was meant to travel to Jordan for talks with Abdullah when he visited Israel less than two weeks after the initial attack last year, but the meeting was canceled after an explosion at a Gaza hospital caused anger across the Arab world.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Abdullah in Amman in January. The Jordanian monarch urged the top diplomat to push for a ceasefire in Gaza and end the humanitarian crisis there.
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