Biden says US will not supply Israel with weapons to attack Rafah

President Biden acknowledged Wednesday that American bombs have been used to kill Palestinian civilians and warned that the United States would withhold some weapons if Israel launches a long-threatened assault on southern Gaza.

Using one of his strongest terms yet on the seven-month war, Biden said the United States will continue to ensure Israel's security, including the Iron Dome missile defense system and Israel's “ability to respond to attacks” like that launched from Iran into Israel. April.

But he said he would block deliveries of weapons that could be dropped into densely populated areas of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are taking refuge.

The president had already blocked the shipment of 3,500 bombs last week over fears they could be used in a major assault on Rafah: the first time since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 that Biden has exploited US weapons to try to influence how the war is waged.

On Wednesday it said it would also block the delivery of artillery shells.

“If they go into Rafah, I will not provide the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” Biden said in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett.

He added: “But it's just wrong. We will not supply the weapons and artillery shells that were used.”

Asked whether 2,000-pound American bombs had been used to kill civilians in Gaza, Biden said: “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a result of those bombs and other ways in which they attack population centers.”

Biden's remarks underscore the growing rift between the United States and its closest ally in the Middle East over the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 people and caused a humanitarian crisis. The United States is by far the largest arms supplier to Israel, and the Biden administration plans to deliver a report to Congress this week to assess whether it believes Israel's assurances that it used American weapons in accordance with U.S. law and international.

Biden had resisted previous calls to condition aid to Israel. He remains unwavering in his support for Israel's right to defend itself, even as he speaks out forcefully against the Rafah invasion and feels frustrated by what he once described as Israel's “indiscriminate bombing.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected US warnings, saying Israel would go ahead with eradicating Hamas even if it had to do it alone.

This week, Israel's war cabinet voted unanimously in favor of the assault on Rafah, and Israeli forces warned more than 100,000 civilians to evacuate, beginning what they called “targeted attacks” against Hamas.

American officials said this week that Israel had said its operation so far in Rafah was “limited” and “designed to block Hamas's ability to smuggle weapons into Gaza,” but continued to express concerns about an escalation.

Biden has said he does not consider Israeli operations in Rafah to date to qualify as a full-scale invasion because they have not hit “population centers.”

But he said he sees them as “right on the border,” adding that they are causing problems with key allies such as Egypt, which has been integral to ceasefire negotiations and the opening of border crossings for humanitarian aid.

Biden said he had made it clear to Netanyahu and his war cabinet that they would not get support if they carried out an offensive in densely populated areas.

“We are not walking away from Israel's security,” he said, “we are walking away from Israel's ability to wage war in those areas.”

Biden was also asked about the Gaza protests on college campuses – particularly the chants calling him “Genocide Joe” – that have erupted in recent weeks.

Asked if he listens to the message of those young Americans, Biden said:

“Absolutely, I heard the message.”

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