• REUTERS

Biden to Seek Billions in Military Aid for Israel as Invasion of Gaza Nears

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a prime-time address to the nation about his approaches to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian assistance in Gaza and continued support for Ukraine in their war with Russia, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. October 19, 2023.

WASHINGTON/GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 20 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Americans to spend billions more dollars to help Israel fight Hamas while Israel’s defense chief told his troops to be ready to go into the Gaza Strip to destroy the Palestinian militant group.

In a televised White House speech late on Thursday that also addressed Ukraine’s effort to repel Russia’s invasion, Biden said Hamas sought to “annihilate” Israel’s democracy.

The president, who made an eight-hour visit to Israel on Wednesday, also stressed the urgency of getting relief to Palestinian civilians in Gaza who lack food, water and medicine.

“We can’t ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who only want to live in peace and have opportunity,” he said.

Biden said he would ask Congress on Friday to approve extra funding for Israel. A source familiar with the matter earlier said it would total $14 billion.

The money would “sharpen Israel’s qualitative edge” and strengthen its military capabilities, Biden said.

He said America’s national security required it to support “critical partners” like Israel. “It’s a smart investment that’s gonna pay dividends for American security for generations,” Biden said.

On the ground in the Gaza Strip, Israel appeared to be getting closer to a full-scale invasion of the seaside enclave ruled by Hamas. The Israeli military massed troops and equipment near the Gaza border.

“You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside. The command will come,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops gathered at the Gaza border on Thursday.

Israel has pounded Gaza with air strikes over the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas gunmen who killed 1,400 Israelis. Israel has put the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people under siege and has signaled a fullscale invasion.

“All the indications are that the worst is coming,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in Amman.

Civilians in Gaza say their situation is increasingly desperate as they run short of food, water, fuel and medical supplies. Some 3,500 people have been killed and more than a million have been made homeless, according to Palestinian health officials.

AID SLOW TO MOVE

During an eight-hour visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Biden sought to broker a deal to get aid into Gaza but had only limited success. He said Israel and Egypt agreed that 20 trucks with relief supplies could cross into the enclave. Two Egyptian security sources said equipment was sent on Thursday through its border crossing to repair roads on the Gaza side. More than 100 trucks were waiting in Egypt.

The crossing has been out of operation amid Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian side of the border.

While some officials previously expected aid to enter Gaza on Friday, the chances appeared to dwindle. The newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield was still negotiating the “exact modalities” of aid deliveries with Israeli and Egyptian officials, the State Department said.

There have been repeated delays and obstacles, and Israel has demanded assurances that relief supplies could not be commandeered by Hamas militants.

The United Nations has called for aid to return to pre-conflict levels of 100 trucks a day. Secretary General Antonio Guterres planned to visit the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza on Friday, a move that Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, told a rally in New York City showed that “his top priority is giving aid to the terrorists.”

FLASHPOINTS BEYOND GAZA

Meanwhile, a Gaza hospital explosion on Wednesday that enraged the Arab world and the anticipated Israeli ground invasion have heightened fears of the conflict spreading.

Palestinians blamed an Israeli air strike for the hospital blast, but Israel said it was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian militants. Biden backed the Israeli account.

The Pentagon on Thursday said a U.S. Navy warship intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by the Houthi movement from Yemen potentially toward Israel. The Houthi, like Hamas, are backed by Iran.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, another Iran ally, said it fired rockets at an Israeli position in the village of Manara on Thursday and drew an Israeli artillery barrage in response after the worst escalation in violence on the border in 17 years.

A civilian was killed in the area, Lebanese security sources and the U.N. peacekeeping force said.

The Lebanese army said a journalist was killed by Israeli gunfire on Thursday in a southern Lebanon border area where Israel’s forces and Hezbollah had a heavy exchange of fire. The Lebanese army said a group of seven media personnel became stranded in the crossfire and it requested U.N. peacekeepers to extract them.

Israel’s military, asked about the Lebanese army’s account, said it was investigating the matter. Last week a Reuters journalist was killed and other journalists were injured in southern Lebanon.

Amid concerns the West Bank could become a third front in a wider war, 13 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Thursday.

The spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida, on Al Jazeera called for anti-Israel rallies across Arab and Muslim countries on Friday and said the group was prepared for a long battle with Israel.