US's Biden warns Israel not to use Gaza aid as 'bargaining chip'

US's Biden warns Israel not to use Gaza aid as 'bargaining chip'
US President Joe Biden told Israel's leaders that humanitarian aid 'cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip' in his State of the Union address.
3 min read
US President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address to Congress [Chip Somodevilla/Getty]

US President Joe Biden warned Israel on Thursday that it cannot use aid as a "bargaining chip" and called for an immediate temporary ceasefire in Gaza, where fears of a looming famine have multiplied amid a brutal Israeli war.

Using his annual State of the Union address to deliver some of his strongest comments yet about the five-month-long war, Biden also ordered the US military to lead "an emergency mission" to build a temporary pier off Gaza to facilitate more aid deliveries.

His address was delivered to Congress as hopes dimmed for a new truce before the start of Ramadan after Hamas negotiators left talks with mediators in Egypt to consult with the movement's leadership in Qatar.

"To the leadership of Israel I say this – humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip," Biden said.

"Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority."

Biden said the temporary pier, announced before his address, would be able to "receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters".

Biden, who is facing political pressure over his staunch support for Israel despite the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, stressed "no US boots will be on the ground" as part of the project.

US personnel would remain offshore while allies manage onshore operations from the port. The plan would also involve a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus.

Live Story

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is expected in the Mediterranean island on Friday for talks on the planned corridor.

Israel's war on Gaza, which began more than 150 days ago, has so far killed 30,800 people. Israeli forces have attacked hospitals, ambulances, and people looking for humanitarian assistance.

'Easier, faster'

The United States, which has heavily backed Israel's war and is Tel Aviv's strongest ally, carried out another airdrop of aid into Gaza on Thursday – its third in less than a week – along with aircraft from Jordan, Belgium, Egypt, France, and the Netherlands.

With road access for aid into Gaza stalled, the UN aid coordinator for the Palestinian territory, Sigrid Kaag, welcomed the airdrops but said land routes remained "the optimal solution".

"It's easier, it's faster, it's cheaper, particularly if we know that we need to sustain humanitarian assistance to Gazans for a long period of time," the former Dutch finance minister said.

US officials said before Biden's address that it would be a "number of weeks" before aid deliveries to the planned port could begin, but said the administration would not "be waiting on the Israelis".

One official described it as "a moment for American leadership", in a sign of growing White House frustration with Israel's failure to allow more relief into Gaza.