President Joe Biden issued a stark new warning to Iran on Wednesday to be “prepared” to respond if the Middle East conflict escalates, condemning extremist settlers attacking Palestinians and questioning Hamas’ death toll presented.
Biden spoke primarily about the conflict between Israel and Hamas in a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, addressing concerns that Iran-linked groups could attack U.S. troops in the region in retaliation.
“My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to act against these forces, we will respond.” And he should be prepared. “Nothing to do with Israel,” he said.
The president defended Israel’s right to respond to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on its people, but also delivered a rare rebuke to Israeli settlers in the West Bank and reiterated calls for a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis as soon as the current one conflict subsides.
And he made clear that he was not calling on Israel to back off from a ground invasion of Gaza to allow more time to release more hostages.
President Biden defended the Israeli attack but issued a rare rebuke for attacks on Palestinian civilians
President Biden hosts his Australian counterpart to discuss China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, a major concern of his administration.
But most of his news conference on Wednesday focused on the Middle East, reporting that U.S. officials were worried the conflict could get worse.
At least two dozen Americans were injured in drone strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria this month.
Biden has repeatedly warned Iranian proxy groups such as Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization, not to use the war between Israel and Hamas as a cover for attacks.
On Wednesday he repeated his warning.
“We have had troops in the region since 9/11 to fight ISIS and prevent a recurrence,” he said, noting that the American presence in the region has “nothing at all to do with Israel.”
U.S. officials fear American forces in the region will come under attack from militant groups once Israel launches its ground invasion into Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
To date, there have been at least 13 missile and drone attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria that resulted in the death of an American contractor. The attacks also destroyed an American drone.
Biden also denied reports that he had called on Israel to postpone a ground invasion of the West Bank to give officials a chance to secure the release of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas.
The president visited Israel last week and said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that all decisions were his decision.
“What I told him is that if it’s possible to get these people out safely, that’s what they should do. “It’s their decision. I didn’t ask for it. “I said if it’s real, it should be done,” he said at his Rose Garden news conference.
President Joe Biden (right) and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) arrive for a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House
President Biden has a list of reporters to call at his joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Most of the questions at Biden and Albanese’s press conference were about Israel
Biden and his administration have steadfastly supported Israel, but the president also pushed to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, where there are shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and medical supplies.
The president reiterated his support for the Israelis in his remarks on Wednesday.
“Israel has the right, and I would add the responsibility, to respond to the slaughter of its people.” And we will ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defend itself against these terrorists. that’s a guarantee.’
He noted that “Israel must do everything in its power to protect innocent civilians, however difficult it is.”
But he also spoke out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, calling them “pouring gasoline on the fire.”
“I remain concerned that extremist settlers are attacking Palestinians in the West Bank and pouring gasoline on fires.” That was a deal. The deal has been made and they are attacking Palestinians in places they have the right to. It has to stop. And it has to stop now.’
He pointed out that “Hamas does not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip or elsewhere. “Hiding behind Palestinian civilians, Hamas is despicable and, unsurprisingly, cowardly.”
And he condemned the brutality of the Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis and led to a two-week war that shows no signs of abating.
He said he believed Hamas was driven in part by a desire to reverse U.S.-led efforts to normalize Israel’s relations with some of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
“I am convinced that part of the reason for the Hamas attack is that I have no evidence of that.” It may be instinct. “This was because of the progress we have made in regional integration with Israel,” he noted.
The president also said Israelis, Palestinians and their partners must work toward a two-state solution after the end of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live side by side in security, dignity and peace,” Biden said.
Al Jazeera correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh mourns the body of one of his children, who was killed along with his wife and daughter in an Israeli attack in Nuseirat camp, at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians transport wounded women found on the streets after Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City
Biden also said he had “no confidence” in Hamas’ claims about the number of civilians killed in Gaza in the past two weeks.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said more than 6,500 people had been killed by Israeli airstrikes since October 7, a figure that could not be independently verified.
“I have no idea whether the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many were killed.” “I am sure that innocent people were killed and that is the price of waging war,” he said, adding: ” I have no confidence in the number the Palestinians are using.”