Biden and Netanyahu speak as pressure’s on Israel over planned Rafah invasion and cease-fire talks

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Saturday in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

TEL AVIV, Israel — The White House on Sunday said U.S. President Joe Biden had again spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as pressure builds on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would free some Israeli hostages and bring a cease-fire in the nearly seven-month-long war in Gaza.

The White House said that Biden reiterated his “clear position” as Israel plans to invade Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah despite global concern for more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering there. The U.S. opposes the invasion on humanitarian grounds, straining relations between the allies. Israel is among the countries U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit as he returns to the Middle East on Monday.


Biden also stressed that progress in delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza be “sustained and enhanced,” according to the statement. The call lasted just under an hour, and they agreed the onus remains on Hamas to accept the latest offer in negotiations, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. There was no comment from Netanyahu’s office.

A senior official from key intermediary Qatar, meanwhile, urged Israel and Hamas to show “more commitment and more seriousness” in negotiations. Qatar, which hosts Hamas’ headquarters in Doha, was instrumental along with the U.S. and Egypt in helping negotiate a brief halt to the fighting in November that led to the release of dozens of hostages. But in a sign of frustration, Qatar this month said that it was reassessing its role.

An Israeli delegation is expected in Egypt in the coming days to discuss the latest proposals in negotiations, and senior Hamas official Basem Naim said in a message to The Associated Press that a delegation from the militant group will also head to Cairo.

Egypt’s state-owned Al Qahera News satellite television channel said that the delegation would arrive on Monday.

The comments by Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari in interviews with the liberal daily Haaretz and Israeli public broadcaster Kan were published and aired Saturday evening.

Al-Ansari expressed disappointment with Hamas and Israel, saying each side has made decisions based on political interests and not with civilians’ welfare in mind. He didn’t reveal details on the talks other than to say they have “effectively stopped,” with “both sides entrenched in their positions.”

Al-Ansari’s remarks came after an Egyptian delegation discussed with Israeli officials a “new vision” for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss developments.

The Egyptian official said that Israeli officials are open to discussing establishing a permanent cease-fire in Gaza as part of the second phase of a deal. Israel has refused to end the war until it defeats Hamas.

The second phase would start after the release of civilian and sick hostages, and would include negotiating the release of soldiers, the official added. Senior Palestinian prisoners would be released and a reconstruction process launched.

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