President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with his Competition Council in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 5, 2024. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Biden: Israel ‘has not done enough’ to protect aid workers or civilians in Gaza

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Biden: Israel ‘has not done enough’ to protect aid workers or civilians in Gaza

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with his Competition Council in the State Dining Room of the White House, March 5, 2024. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by an Israeli strike that killed seven hunger relief workers and said Israel was not doing enough to protect aid workers and other civilians, in his sharpest official rebuke of Israel so far in the Gaza war.

Biden’s statement late Tuesday came as Israel scrambled to deal with the fallout of the killing Monday of seven workers with World Central Kitchen. Israel has acknowledged responsibility for the strike, has launched an investigation and has already made changes to how it coordinates with aid agencies.

Israel made the changes and apologies before Biden released his statement, but the president nonetheless did not hold back in criticizing the Israeli government and army.

“This is not a stand-alone incident,” the statement said, referring to the nearly 200 employees of humanitarian agencies who have been killed in Gaza since Hamas launched the war with an attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed,” Biden said. “This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians. Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians.”

In informal exchanges with reporters, Biden criticized Israel’s conduct of the war, at one point saying its bombing was “over the top.” But the anguish and anger he expressed on Tuesday was notable because it came in a formal statement.

Biden has backed Israel from the outset of the war, when Hamas terrorists massacred more than 1,200 people and abducted more than 250. But more recently, he has openly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction of the war, particularly his plans to launch a massive operation in Rafah, the city on the Gaza-Egypt border where more than 1 million Palestinians have taken refuge, many at Israel’s behest.

Netanyahu says four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah and that the war will not be over until the terrorist group is dismantled.

The Biden administration has pressed Israel to facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip. Israel has blamed the obstruction of assistance on Hamas.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched counterstrikes on Oct. 8, including what Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says are hundreds of women and children. Israel has said that about a third are combatants.

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