Biden says made clear to Israel occupying Gaza would be a mistake

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason

WOODSIDE, California (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he had made it clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a two-state solution was the only answer to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict and that occupying Gaza would be “a big mistake.”

Biden told reporters he was doing everything in his power to free hostages held by the Hamas militant group in Gaza, but that did not mean sending in the U.S. military.

The U.S. president had told reporters this week that his message to the hostages was “Hang in there, we’re coming,” raising questions about what he meant.

Asked to clarify the comment, Biden told a news conference: “What I meant was, I’m doing everything in my power to get you out. Coming to help you, get you out. I don’t mean sending in military in there … I was not talking about the military.”

Biden said he was working on the issue constantly, and would not stop until the hostages – including a three-year-old American child – were freed.

Qatar, where Hamas operates a political office, has been leading mediation between the Islamist militant group and Israeli officials for the release of more than 240 hostages. They were taken by militants when they stormed into Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed during the rampage.

Israel then launched an unrelenting bombardment of Hamas-ruled Gaza and late last month began an armoured invasion of the enclave, where more than 11,000 people have been killed, around 40% of them children with more buried under the rubble, according to Palestinian officials.

Biden said Hamas was committing war crimes by having its military headquarters under a hospital, repeating a statement made a White House spokesperson on Tuesday, and he was confident about the U.S. intelligence supporting that “fact.”

He said Israel had gone into Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa, with a limited number of troops with guns, and was not carpet-bombing the site.

“They were told … we discussed the need for them to be incredibly careful,” Biden said, adding that Israel had an obligation to use as much caution as possible in going after targets.

But he said it was “not realistic” to expect Israel to stop its military actions, given threats by senior Hamas officials that they intended to attack Israel again.

He said Israel was also bringing in incubators and other equipment to help people, and were giving doctors, nurses and other staff the opportunity to “get out of harm’s way.”

Israel on Wednesday said its troops found Hamas weapons and combat gear in Al Shifa hospital during a search on Wednesday. Hamas dismissed the announcement as “lies.”

Biden said he had told Netanyahu that he did not believe the war would end until a two-state solution was reached.

“I made it clear to Israel that I think it’s a big mistake to for them to occupy Gaza,” he said.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Sandra Maler & Simon Cameron-Moore)