A far-right minister in Israel’s government criticized US President Joe Biden and said having Donald Trump in power would allow more freedom to fight Hamas. The comments sparked outrage among other Israeli officials on Sunday and highlighted the sensitivity of relations as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region again this week.
The Biden administration has bypassed Congress to send weapons to Israel and shielded it from international calls for a ceasefire in the four months since the Hamas attack on October 7. But the White House has urged Israel to take greater steps to avoid harming civilians and allow more aid to besieged Gaza.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Biden was hindering Israel’s war effort.
“Instead of giving us his full support, Biden is busy giving humanitarian aid and fuel (to Gaza), which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump were in power, the conduct of the United States would be completely different.”
His comments drew criticism from Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu’s three-man War Cabinet, who said Ben-Gvir was “causing tremendous damage” to US-Israel relations. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who also posted on X, said Ben-Gvir’s comments prove that he “doesn’t understand foreign relations.”
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s comments as “racist” and called for international sanctions against him, saying he threatens the stability of the region.
Netanyahu, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name, appeared to refer to his comments during a weekly Cabinet meeting. “I don’t need any help managing our relations with the United States and the international community,” he said.
Ben-Gvir, along with other far-right figures, has called for a “voluntary” mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza and the return of Jewish settlements, which Israel dismantled when it withdrew troops from the territory in 2005. The Biden administration opposes any such measure. script.
Ben-Gvir and other key members of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition have threatened to overthrow the government if they believe it is too soft on Hamas. Netanyahu said the army was carrying out “very aggressive raids” in northern and central Gaza while dealing with remaining Hamas battalions around the city of Rafah in far southern Gaza.
Israel’s military said on Sunday it had raided the Hamas brigade headquarters in Khan Younis in the south and found what it called training materials for the Oct. 7 attack, including “models simulating entrance doors.” of Israeli kibbutzim, military bases and IDF armored vehicles.
The war in Gaza has devastated vast areas of the small enclave, displacing 85% of its population and pushing a quarter of residents into famine. Gaza’s Health Ministry said 127 bodies had been taken to hospitals in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 27,365. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but says most of the dead are women and children.
In central Gaza, Israeli airstrikes hit two homes and a mosque in Deir al-Balah, killing 22 people and wounding at least 60 others, including children, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene. At Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, a nurse cleaned the head wounds of a boy who was sitting between two other children, one trembling and the other crying.
Other Palestinians found refuge in the hospital but little relief. “Someone like me has been here for three months or two and a half months and I haven’t taken a shower. What can we do? We want to go back to our house,” Basemah Al-Haddad said. displaced from Gaza City.
Two children were killed in separate airstrikes in Rafah, according to the registry office of the hospital where the bodies were taken. The first hit a house in the Jeneina refugee camp and killed a 12-year-old boy. The second hit a room west of the Rafah border crossing, killing a two-year-old boy.
The bodies lay on the floor of the hospital. A relative leaned over to gently touch a child’s face.
More humanitarian aid to Gaza will be a “top priority” when Blinken visits the region, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS. Blinken will begin Monday in Saudi Arabia and stop in Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank.
Another focus is Israel’s tense negotiations mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt aimed at freeing more than 100 remaining captives taken in the October 7 attack in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
“It is up to Hamas to step forward and respond to what is a serious proposal,” Sullivan told NBC, adding that there is no clear idea of how many hostages are still alive.
Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack and kidnapped about 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were freed during a week-long ceasefire. in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Hamas has said it will not release any more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. He also demands the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has publicly dismissed both demands.
Hamas is expected to respond to the latest ceasefire offer in the coming days.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press journalist Wafaa Shurafa in Deir-al-Balah contributed.