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Biden to speak with Netanyahu on Thursday, US official says

U.S. President Biden visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will speak by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, three days after Israel launched an attack in which seven World Central Kitchen aid workers were killed, a U.S. official said.

The White House has described Biden as outraged and heartbroken by the attack but the president has made no fundamental change in the United States' steadfast support for Israel in its conflict in Gaza.

A U.S. official said Biden was likely to bring up the need for better protections for humanitarian workers and for an increase into Gaza of food shipments.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres told Reuters in an emotional interview on Wednesday that the Israeli military attack, which killed seven of his food aid workers in Gaza, had targeted them "systematically, car by car."

Concerned about the slow pace of aid deliveries on land, the United States has been carrying out airdrops and building a temporary pier for shipments from the sea.

U.S. and Israeli representatives met virtually on Monday to discuss Israel's threat to launch a broad offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where many Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.

The U.S. and Israel plan further discussions at an in-person meeting of representatives next week.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that while the in-person meeting was unlikely to reach firm conclusions and decisions on the way forward, Washington hoped to make progress on how to root out Hamas militants from Rafah without harming civilians.

Negotiations are also under way aimed at reaching a temporary ceasefire in Gaza in exchange for Hamas releasing sick, elderly and wounded hostages taken when the militant group launched an Oct. 7 assault on Israel and killed 1,200 people.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Wednesday that his Palestinian Islamist movement was sticking to its conditions for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, including a complete Israeli military withdrawal.

Biden wants to see a swift investigation into the Israeli airstrike on the food aid convoy, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller)