President Joe Biden said he thought there should be a humanitarian "pause" in the Israel-Hamas war, after his campaign speech Wednesday evening was interrupted by a protester calling for a cease-fire.
"I think we need a pause," Biden said.
The call was a subtle departure for Biden and top White House aides, who throughout the Mideast crisis have been steadfast in stating 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, 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 refused 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.
Israeli ground troops have advanced near Gaza City in heavy fighting with militants, the military said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians were allowed to leave Gaza after more than three weeks under siege.
The first people to leave Gaza — other than four hostages released by Hamas and another rescued by Israeli forces — crossed into Egypt, escaping even as bombings drive hundreds of thousands from their homes, and food, water and fuel run low.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier on Wednesday that Biden'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."
On Wednesday evening, Biden was speaking to a crowd of supporters in Minneapolis about his reasons for running for president in 2020 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."
His presence in the city drew more than 1,000 demonstrators not far from where the fundraiser was held, and they carried Palestinian flags and signs that said "Stop Bombing Children," "Free Palestine" and "Ceasefire now."
Biden said he understood the emotions motivating the demonstrator, who was quickly shouted down by others in the room and removed. He said, when asked, that a pause "means give time to get the prisoners out." White House officials later clarified he meant hostages and humanitarian aid.
"This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis," 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 Biden noted that he's been working on humanitarian aid, saying he was the one who convinced both Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to allow aid into Gaza.
"I'm the guy," he said.
Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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