Biden warns Iran over Gaza; Israel forms emergency war cabinet

October 12, 2023 - 11:46 AM
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A view shows houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem/File Photo)
  • Iranian and Saudi leaders in breakthrough telephone call
  • Iran/Saudi leaders discuss “need to end to war crimes against Palestine” says Iran media
  • Saudi crown prince says Kingdom making all efforts internationally/regionally to stop escalation, Saudi media
  • Saudi crown prince rejects targeting civilians
  • Former US president Trump says if re-elected the United States will fully support Israel to permanently destroying Hamas

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM/GAZA U.S. President Joe Biden warned Iran against getting involved in Israel’s conflict with Hamas amid fears of a wider regional conflict, while ongoing Israeli air strikes around the Gaza Strip drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Israeli jets have pounded Gazan targets for days in retribution for a weekend attack by Hamas militants who breached the border fence enclosing the enclave and rampaged through towns and villages, killing 1,200 people, injuring over 2,700, and taking scores of hostages, the Israeli military said.

At around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, Israel’s military said it was conducting a “large-scale strike” on targets belonging to Hamas in Gaza. It did not provide details.

The death toll in Gaza has risen to 1,200, with around 5,600 wounded, Palestinian media reported, citing Gaza’s health ministry.

Biden despatched his top diplomat, Antony Blinken, to the Middle East to show Washington’s enduring support for Israel, seek to secure the release of captives, including Americans, and prevent a wider war from erupting.

Blinken will arrive on Thursday and will also visit Jordan, but will not visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he ordinarily meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Speaking to a roundtable of Jewish community leaders in Washington, Biden said his deployment of military ships and aircraft closer to Israel should be seen as a signal to Iran, which backs Islamist groups Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful,” Biden said.

Iran likely knew Hamas militants were planning “operations against Israel” but initial U.S. intelligence reports showed that some Iranian leaders were surprised by the group’s unprecedented attack from Gaza, U.S. sources said on Wednesday.

Iran has said it was not involved in the Hamas attacks.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the conflict on Wednesday, in the first telephone call between the two leaders since a China-brokered deal between Tehran and Riyadh to resume ties.

Raisi and the Saudi crown prince discussed the “need to end war crimes against Palestine,” Iranian state media said.

The Saudi crown prince “affirmed that the Kingdom is making all possible efforts in communicating with all international and regional parties to stop the ongoing escalation,” Saudi state news agency SPA said. He also reiterated Saudi Arabia’s rejection of targeting civilians in any way, SPA added.

‘We are all soldiers of Israel’

Israel’s leaders on Wednesday formed a unity government, promising to put bitter political divisions aside to focus on the fight against Hamas.

Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a centrist opposition leader, spoke live on Israeli television alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant after forming a war cabinet focused entirely on the conflict.

“Our partnership is not political, it is a shared fate,” said Gantz. “At this time we are all the soldiers of Israel.”

Netanyahu said the people of Israel and its leadership were united. “We have put aside all differences because the fate of our state is on the line,” he said.

Gantz’s National Unity Party, which has fiercely opposed judicial reforms proposed by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, said it will not promote any unrelated policy or laws while the fighting goes on.

Israel has put Gaza under “total siege” to stop food and fuel reaching the enclave of 2.3 million people, many poor and dependent on aid. Hamas media said on Wednesday electricity went out after the only power station stopped working.

With Palestinian rescue workers overwhelmed, others in the crowded coastal strip searched for bodies in the rubble.

“I was sleeping here when the house collapsed on top of me,” one man cried as he and others used flashlights on the stairs of a building hit by missiles to find anyone trapped.

Hamas ‘will cease to exist,’ Israeli defense chief says

Hamas-affiliated media said on Wednesday seven people were killed by Israeli air strikes on homes in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Some 340,000 of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been displaced due to the war, and around 65% of them have sought safety at shelters or schools, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the enclave.

Israel has deployed formations of tanks and armored vehicles near Gaza in possible preparation for a ground offensive into the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.

Israel withdrew Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation. An Israeli blockade since Hamas seized power in the enclave in 2007 has created conditions which Palestinians say are intolerable.

“We will wipe this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza, off the face of the earth,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday, likening Hamas to the Islamic State group. “It will cease to exist.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump told supporters on Wednesday that if re-elected “the United States will fully support Israel, defeating, dismantling, and permanently destroying the terrorist group, Hamas.”Biden said he spoke to Netanyahu again on Wednesday, their fourth conversation in recent days, and told him Israel should follow the rules of war in its response against Hamas.

Washington said it was talking with Israel and Egypt about safe passage for civilians from Gaza, with food in short supply.

– Reporting by Jeff Mason, Humeyra Pamuk, Jarrett Renshaw, Rami Ayyub, Simon Lewis, Dan Whitcomb and Ross Colvin in Washington, Maayan Lubell and Emily Rose in Jerusalem, and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Simon Lewis and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Howard Goller and Michael Perry