Biden says Israel's Gaza operations are self-defeating as US aid ship leaves port

Washington has repeatedly warned Israel to limit civilian casualties in the war in Gaza where about 31,000 Palestinians have been killed

Soldiers board the General Frank S. Besson from the 7th Transportation Brigade. Reuters
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rebuffed US President Joe Biden's comments that Israel's approach to the war in Gaza was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel”, as a US ship set sail for Gaza as part of an international plan to deliver aid to the enclave via sea.

“Well, I don’t know exactly what the President meant,” Mr Netanyahu told Politico during an interview.

“If he meant by that I'm pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he's wrong on both counts,” he said.

On Saturday, Mr Biden said the Israeli Prime Minister “has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas”, he told MSNBC, but “he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken”.

He said that further destruction in Gaza was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel”.

“You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead,” he said, as the death toll in the enclave since the war began in October rose above 31,000.

Mr Biden also made what appeared to be contradictory remarks, calling Israel's threat to invade Rafah in southern Gaza as a “red line”, but then backtracking.

“I’m never going to leave Israel.”

Washington has called on Israel to agree to a ceasefire ahead of Ramadan, which begins on Monday, and warned against an all-out offensive on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, where about 1.5 million people are thought to be sheltering.

Mr Biden's remarks come as the US joins a major international push to deliver thousands of tonnes of aid to Gaza by sea from Cyprus.

On Sunday, the General Frank S Besson support vessel departed from a naval base in Virginia “less than 36 hours after President Biden announced the US would provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza by sea”, US Central Command said.

The vessel is headed for Gaza “carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies”, it said.

The operation will involve the US constructing a pier by the shore of the heavily bombarded enclave.

On the same day, US Central Command said it dropped over 11,500 “meal equivalents” into Gaza as well as rice, flour, pasta and canned goods, in a joint operation with Jordan, Egypt, France and Belgium.

Aid agencies have said costly efforts to deliver aid into Gaza would not be needed if Israel had sped up approvals of aid lorries on the borders of Gaza, rather than hindering the flow of supplies for the enclave’s 2.3 million people.

Critics of Mr Biden and his administration said the US has not used its substantial leverage, including billions of dollars in military aid, to force Israel to agree to a ceasefire and allow more aid into the enclave.

The UN has warned about half of Gaza faces famine after months in which aid deliveries have been less than half the minimum daily average required.

Open Arms 'ready' to sail from Cyprus

Meanwhile, a boat laden with aid was “ready” to set sail from Cyprus, an NGO said, as part of the new international focus on delivering aid to Gaza by sea.

It would be the first shipment along a maritime corridor from Cyprus – the closest EU country to Gaza – that the EU Commission hopes will open on Sunday.

The founder of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, Oscar Camps, said the ship would take two to three days to arrive at an undisclosed location.

The ship has been waiting at the port of Larnaca in Cyprus, about 400km from Gaza.

Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP that Israeli authorities were inspecting the cargo of “200 tonnes of basic foodstuffs, rice and flour, cans of tuna”.

US charity World Central Kitchen, which is working with Open Arms, has teams in Gaza who are “constructing a dock” to unload the shipment, Ms Lanuza said.

A member of World Central Kitchen hailed the voyage of the Open Arms as the “next step” in delivering aid to Gaza in a post on X.

He said that once it reached Gaza, it would be taken off the barge by crane, placed on lorries and driven to northern Gaza, which has been largely cut off from aid shipments.

The UN's World Food Programme has warned that the volume of aid that can be delivered by sea will do little if anything to stave off famine in Gaza.

On Friday Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said a “pilot operation” would be launched in partnership with World Central Kitchen, supported by aid from the UAE.

The US effort for a “temporary pier” off Gaza builds upon the maritime corridor proposed by Cyprus, senior US officials said.

Updated: March 10, 2024, 8:05 PM