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Delaware Sen. Chris Coons meets with Israeli leaders, calls for humanitarian cease-fire and hostage release

Delaware Sen. Coons says he believes peace in Middle East is possible
Delaware Sen. Coons says he believes peace in Middle East is possible 02:41

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – As the war continues between Israel and Hamas, more U.S. leaders are ramping up calls for a cease-fire. One of them is Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, who last week brought his concerns straight to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The debate we ended up engaging in was how much more of this can the Palestinian people take, can the region take, and the supporters of Israel around the world of Israel take?" Coons said.

The senator's visit came as Israel prepared its next phase of the conflict, an assault on the southern city of Rafah. And while Coons called Israel's war with Hamas a "legitimate exercise," Rafah is an area where many Palestinians have sought shelter.

"This last chapter of the war against Hamas in Rafah may be one where there are just too many civilians, too concentrated, for there to be any acceptable path forward for a campaign," Coons said.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons on Israel-Hamas war, recent conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu by CBS Philadelphia on YouTube

Last week, the Gaza Health Ministry reported the death toll at more than 29,000. Coons said he called on the prime minister to negotiate a humanitarian cease-fire and hostage exchange, particularly during the upcoming Ramadan celebrations in March.

While Coons said Netanyahu "recognized" the calls for a cease-fire, the prime minister was determined to "finish the job" against Hamas.

"My question to him was 'At what cost, and is it possible that by conducting this war the way you are, you are leading to more radicalization and more extremism?'" Coons said.

The senator said he and the prime minister "disagreed" on that notion.

Coons' visit also came as some who are at odds with Israel's tactics in the war questioned U.S. support for Israel. While Coons stopped well short of saying the U.S. would withdraw aid from its longtime ally, he did note there have been conversations in the Senate on "conditioning aid" to Israel. He also said President Biden ordered a review of that funding.

"A thorough review of whether or not the military equipment and funding that we're providing to Israel is being used in compliance with the rules of war," Coons said.

Despite the "brutal and significant" fighting Coons described since Hamas' October attack, the senator remains positive there is still a path to peace in the Middle East.

"There is a real opportunity for peace here on the other side of this war against Hamas in Gaza," Coons said. "But it requires an end to the fighting, a humanitarian cease-fire, and the beginnings of serious and direct negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people."

READ MORE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the U.S. would be "doing a hell of a lot more" after a terror attack

Coons, however, acknowledged the challenges. Aside from the current war happening with Hamas, Coons said he worries that Israel is "on the verge" of a conflict in its north with Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization.

The senator said the first key is de-escalating the current conflict, then having Saudi Arabia and Israel recognize each other and open economic ties. But Coons also notes there's one thing that is a must for him in peace talks.

"That cannot happen unless there is a path forward for Palestinian self-governance and self-determination," said Coons.

That could run into challenges of its own, however. Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu posted on X saying, "I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory West of Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state."

And Coons acknowledged nothing can happen until this current war between Israel and Hamas ends.

"We also need to be clear-eyed about just how difficult this has been, and just how significant the humanitarian needs are in Gaza, the West Bank, and throughout the region," he said.

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