Biden: Hospitals ‘must be protected’ in Gaza as Israeli forces close in

President Biden on Monday called for Israel to take “less intrusive” action in Gaza in its war against Hamas, warning in particular against strikes that hit hospitals.

“Well, as we know, I have not been reluctant expressing my concerns with what’s going on,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.

“My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to hospitals and we remain in contact with the Israelis,” he continued. “Also there is an effort to get this pause to deal with the release of prisoners and that’s being negotiated. … So I remain somewhat hopeful, but hospitals must be protected.”

Biden’s comments come as Israeli forces have closed in on the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza which is the enclave’s largest medical center. Israel says Hamas uses Al-Shifa as a key operational headquarters for coordinating attacks against Israel and its civilians, though the intelligence Jerusalem has released cannot be independently verified.

Hamas has used Al-Shifa for press conferences with journalists in previous rounds of conflict. In 2008, The New York Times reported Hamas gunmen in civilian clothing were seen around the hospital, claiming to be security guards but seen killing people they alleged to, what Hamas considers, be in collaboration with Israel.

Still, Gazan health officials have warned conditions inside the hospital are dire due to lack of medicine, fuel and food as hundreds of patients shelter inside. Reuters interviewed Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra, who was inside Al-Shifa hospital, and he said 32 patients died in the past three days, including three newborn babies, as a result of Israel’s siege of the hospital and lack of power.

The president’s comments further crystalize how the White House has urged Israel to abide by the laws of war and minimize the impact on civilians as it carries out operations to target Hamas in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that left more than 1,000 Israelis dead.

Thousands of Palestinians have died in subsequent attacks by Israel, which launched a relentless aerial bombardment of Gaza for weeks before ground forces went in.

Biden and his top officials have expressed steadfast support for Israel and its right to defend itself, and the U.S. has provided munitions and other resources to the Jewish state.

But the administration has also shifted its tone in recent weeks to place more emphasis on humanitarian aid and the protection of civilians while progressive lawmakers and activists have called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The Biden administration has rejected calls for a cease-fire, saying it would allow Hamas to regroup and plot its next steps. Instead, the administration pushed Israel to agree to humanitarian pauses to allow aid into Gaza and hostages out. Israel last week agreed to brief pauses in fighting in parts of Gaza to allow for the evacuation of civilians.

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