Minneapolis — President Biden said he thought there should be a humanitarian “pause” in, after his campaign speech Wednesday evening was interrupted by a protester calling for a cease-fire. “I think we need a pause,” Mr. Biden said.
The call was a subtle departure for Mr. Biden and top White House aides who throughout the Mideast crisis have been steadfast in saying they will not dictate how the Israelis carry out their military operations in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
But the president has faced intensifying pressure from human rights groups, fellow world leaders and even liberal members of his own Democratic Party who say that the Israeli bombardment of Gaza is collective punishment and that it is time for a cease-fire.
In his comments, Mr. Biden was exerting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give Palestinians at least a brief reprieve from the relentless military operation that’s left thousands dead and mired the 141-square-mile strip in a roiling humanitarian crisis.
The White House has declined to call for a cease-fire but has signaled that the Israelis should consider humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to receive aid and for foreign nationals trapped on the strip to leave Gaza.
The president was speaking to a crowd of supporters in Minneapolis when a woman got up and yelled, “Mr. President, if you care about Jewish people, as a rabbi, I need you to call for a cease-fire.”
Mr. Biden replied, “I think we need a pause. A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
He went on to say, “I’m the guy that convinced Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) to call for a ceasefire to let the prisoners out. I’m the guy that talked to Sisi (Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi) to convince him to open the door” to let humanitarian aid enter through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt.
White House sources told CBS News Mr. Biden was referring to Judith and Natalie Raanan of Illinois, the mother and daughter who wereafter Hamas held them hostage. The pause in hostilities lasted “a few hours” to facilitate the transfer, the sources said.
Mr. Biden’s presence in the city drew more than 1,000 demonstrators near the fundraiser. They carried Palestinian flags and signs that said “Stop Bombing Children,” “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire now.”
Mr. Biden said he understood the emotions motivating the demonstrator, who was quickly shouted down by others in the room and removed.
“This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis,” Mr. Biden went on. “It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well. … I supported a two-state solution, I have from the very beginning.”
“The fact of the matter is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. A flat-out terrorist organization,” he said.
But Mr. Biden noted that he’s been working on humanitarian aid, saying he was the one who persuaded both Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to allow aid into Gaza.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier on Wednesday that the president’s newly confirmed ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, would soon be dispatched to the Middle East and would be tasked in part with “supporting U.S. efforts to create the conditions for a humanitarian pause to address the worsening humanitarian conditions facing Palestinian civilians.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog told “The Hill” on NewsNation Wednesday “we don’t need urging” in response to calls for more aid for Gaza.
“We are ramping up humanitarian supplies into Gaza in those areas which are away from Hamas in the southern part of Gaza. The number of truckloads doubles and is going to pick up more and more,” he said. “We provide water. We provide other types of supplies.”
He told NewsNation they were happy to see foreigners leave Gaza. “So we don’t need urging, urging in that sense. Our Cabinet discussed this week this issue and decided there are no limitations as long as we can make sure that Hamas does not put its hands on humanitarian supplies and uses them to feed its war machine. That will not happen. Short of that, everything is open.”