U.S. President Joe Biden will head to Israel Wednesday, as a humanitarian crisis grows in the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground invasion by Israeli forces.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Biden will visit Tel Aviv before going to Jordan where he will meet with King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The White House said Biden will reiterate that the militant group Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination and discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.
“(The) president will hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blinken said the U.S. and Israel agreed to develop a plan “that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza – and them alone.”
Israel in recent days has ordered Palestinian civilians living in the northern half of Gaza to head to the southern reaches of the territory along the Mediterranean Sea, and about 600,000 people in cars and on foot have heeded the Israeli demand.
But Israeli forces have continued to launch airstrikes into southern Gaza, including on Tuesday morning, along with attacks on Hamas targets in the north.
Gaza’s Interior Ministry said that at least 72 people were killed, and dozens wounded in the attacks on residential buildings in the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, the closed border crossing with Egypt. The Israeli military said it struck Hamas targets.
The humanitarian crisis has grown increasingly dire in Gaza. Israel has blocked basic necessities from reaching the territory. There is limited electricity and diminishing supplies of food and water, while hospitals say they are hard-pressed to treat the wounded.
Blinken said it is critical that aid begin flowing into Gaza as soon as possible, but expressed concern that Hamas militants may try to seize supplies or prevent their distribution.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Tuesday that Turkey has had talks with Hamas officials about the release of nearly 200 people the militants took hostage.
Fidan said many countries have asked Turkey to help secure the release of their citizens. His comments came a day after he spoke with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Grave humanitarian crisis
Palestinians in Gaza have been without electricity and under a complete Israeli siege with no food, fuel or water allowed into the Hamas-controlled territory since Oct. 9. Israel imposed the blockade in response to the deadly terrorist attack Hamas launched on Israeli towns on Oct. 7, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis.
Israel has amassed 300,000 troops on Gaza’s border, poised for a likely ground invasion, as it vows to wipe out Hamas.
Israeli forces have been hitting Gaza with airstrikes since the Hamas attack, killing more than 2,800 people and wounding at least another 10,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
While hundreds of thousands of Gazans have moved to the southern half of the territory, King Abdullah warned Tuesday that pushing Palestinian refugees into Jordan or Egypt is not an option, as he called for doing everything necessary to prevent further escalation of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“This is a situation that has to be handled within Gaza and the West Bank,” he said. “And you don’t have to carry this out on the shoulders of others.”
Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, UNRWA, said Monday there is no water for the vast majority of Gaza’s population.
Touma said hundreds of thousands of Gazans are sheltering in UNRWA schools.
The United Nations said humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths will head to Egypt on Tuesday for several days. He also plans to visit Israel.
A Russian-drafted resolution seeking a humanitarian cease-fire and the release of all Israeli and foreign hostages failed to receive the necessary support in a U.N. Security Council vote late Monday.
Only five of the 15 council members supported the measure, four voted against it and six abstained.
The United States was among those who did not support it. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas’ atrocities, but said the proposed text failed to condemn the terror group.
“By failing to condemn Hamas, Russia is giving cover to a terrorist group that brutalizes innocent civilians,” she said. “It is outrageous, it is hypocritical, and it is indefensible.”
There are fears that the fighting could expand to Israel’s border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-supported militant group Hezbollah said its fighters targeted five Israeli posts along Lebanon’s southern border.
The Israeli Air Force said Tuesday it struck Hezbollah “terror targets and military infrastructure” in Lebanon in response to militant fire toward Israel.
Israeli troops also killed four militants who were trying to cross into Israel from Lebanon, the military said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Israeli Knesset Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Iran and Hezbollah, “Don’t test us in the north. Don’t make the mistake of the past. Today, the price you will pay will be far heavier,” he said, referring to Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.
The United Nation’s has a peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon that monitors the border with Israel. It said Monday that its headquarters in the Lebanese town of Naqoura was hit; no one was injured.
Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this article.