Israel says Biden threat to stop arms 'very disappointing'

Israel says Biden threat to stop arms 'very disappointing'
Israel's UN ambassador has decried the US decision to pause weapons transfers, as US President Joe Biden for the first time publicly vowed to withhold weapons.
3 min read
Gilad Erdan suggested Biden's threat to withhold arms would stop Israel "achieving its goals" [Getty]

Two top Israeli officials criticised US President Joe Biden on Thursday for threatening to stop certain arms supplies to Israel if it invades the  city of Rafah.

"This is a difficult and very disappointing statement to hear from a president to whom we have been grateful since the beginning of the war," Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said on public radio in Israel's first reaction to Biden's warning.

Israel has defied international objections by sending in tanks and conducting "targeted raids" in the eastern areas of Rafah, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

It says Rafah is home to Hamas's last remaining battalions but the city on the border with Egypt is also overcrowded with Palestinian civilians who have been displaced as a result of Israel's indiscriminate war on Gaza.

At least 34,904 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed as a result of Israel's bombardment, with over 78,000 injured.

"If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used... to deal with the cities," Biden told news broadcaster CNN, in his starkest warning to Israel since the start of the war.

"Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs," Biden said. "It's just wrong."

Erdan claimed Biden's comments would be interpreted by Israel's foes Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah as "something that gives them hope to succeed".

"If Israel is restricted from entering an area as important and central as Rafah where there are thousands of terrorists, hostages and leaders of Hamas, how exactly are we supposed to achieve our goals?" he said.

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"This is not a defensive weapon. This is about certain offensive bombs. In the end the State of Israel will have to do what it thinks needs to be done for the security of its citizens."

Israel's far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has a history of violent incitement against Palestinians, said his government would pursue its goals in Gaza despite the US threat.

"We will achieve complete victory in this war despite President Biden's push back and arms embargo," he said in a statement.

"We must continue the war until Hamas is totally eliminated and our hostages are back home. This involves conquering Rafah completely and the sooner the better."

Journalists reported heavy shelling in Rafah early Thursday, and the Israeli military later said it was also striking further north in the centre of the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces seized Rafah's border crossing into Egypt, which has served the main entry point for aid into besieged Gaza.