WASHINGTON — United States (US) President Joe Biden asked Americans to spend billions more dollars to help Israel fight Hamas while Israel’s defence chief told his troops to be ready to go into the Gaza Strip to destroy the Palestinian militant group.
In a televised White House speech late on Thursday (Oct 19) that also addressed Ukraine’s effort to repel Russia’s invasion, Mr Biden said Hamas sought to “annihilate” Israel’s democracy.
The President also stressed the urgency of getting relief to Palestinian civilians in Gaza who lack food, water and medicine.
“We can’t ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who only want to live in peace and have opportunity,” said Mr Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday.
Israel appeared to be getting closer to a full-scale invasion of Gaza, a densely populated enclave ruled by Hamas. The Israeli military has massed troops and equipment near the Gaza border.
“You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside. The command will come,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops gathered at the Gaza border on Thursday.
Mr Biden said he would ask Congress on Friday to approve extra funding for “critical partner” Israel. A person familiar with the matter earlier said that would total US$14 billion (S$19 billion).
“It’s a smart investment that’s gonna pay dividends for American security for generations,” Mr Biden added.
Israel has pounded Gaza with air strikes and put the enclave’s 2.3 million people under siege after Hamas gunmen rampaged through Israeli towns and kibbutzes on Oct 7, killing 1,400 Israelis and taking scores of hostages.
Some 3,500 people in Gaza have been killed and more than a million have been made homeless, according to Palestinian health officials. Civilians say their situation is desperate as they run short of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.
“All the indications are that the worst is coming,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in Amman.
AID SLOW TO MOVE
During an eight-hour visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Mr Biden sought to broker a deal to get aid into Gaza but had only limited success.
He said Israel and Egypt agreed that 20 trucks with relief supplies could cross into the enclave. Two Egyptian security sources said the equipment was sent on Thursday through its border crossing to repair roads on the Gaza side. More than 100 trucks were waiting in Egypt.
The crossing has been out of operation amid Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian side of the border.
While some officials previously expected aid to enter Gaza on Friday, the chances appeared to dwindle. The newly appointed US Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield was still negotiating the “exact modalities” of aid deliveries with Israeli and Egyptian officials, the State Department said.
There have been repeated delays and obstacles, and Israel has demanded assurances that relief supplies could not be commandeered by Hamas militants. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is currently on a Middle East trip, partly aimed at easing the provision of aid to Gaza as well as trying to prevent an escalation of violence in the region.
The United Nations (UN) has called for aid to return to pre-conflict levels of 100 trucks a day. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres planned to visit the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza on Friday.
FLASHPOINTS BEYOND GAZA
Meanwhile, an explosion at a Gaza hospital on Wednesday enraged the Arab world and the anticipated Israeli ground invasion has heightened fears of the conflict spreading.
Palestinians blamed an Israeli air strike for the hospital blast, but Israel said it was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian militants. Mr Biden backed the Israeli account.
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said 21 Palestinians were killed and 71 injured overnight in Israeli air strikes targeting homes in the southern city of Khan Younis, and that rescue workers were searching for victims under the rubble.
The Pentagon on Thursday said a US Navy warship intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by the Houthi movement from Yemen potentially toward Israel. The Houthi, like Hamas, are backed by Iran.
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, another Iran ally, said it fired rockets at an Israeli position in the village of Manara on Thursday and drew an Israeli artillery barrage in response after the worst escalation in violence on the border in 17 years. A civilian was killed in the area, Lebanese security sources and the UN peacekeeping force said.
The Lebanese army said a journalist was killed by Israeli gunfire on Thursday in a southern Lebanon border area where Israel’s forces and Hezbollah had a heavy exchange of fire. The Lebanese army said a group of seven media personnel became stranded in the crossfire and it requested UN peacekeepers to extract them.
Asked about the Lebanese army’s account, Israel’s military said it was investigating the matter. Last week, Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was killed and other journalists were wounded in southern Lebanon.
On Friday, Israel ordered the evacuation of residents of Kiryat Shmona, a northern town close to the border with a population of more than 20,000.
Amid concerns the West Bank could become a third front in a wider war, 13 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Thursday.
The spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida, on Al Jazeera called for anti-Israel rallies across Arab and Muslim countries on Friday. REUTERS