Biden: Israel agrees to halt military activity in Gaza during Ramadan

U.S. President Biden and VP Harris meet with congressional leaders at the White House
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By Jeff Mason

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel has agreed not to engage in military activities during Ramadan in Gaza, where it is at war with Hamas militants, and said the Jewish state risked losing support from the rest of the world as Palestinians die in high numbers.

Biden, who made his remarks during an appearance on NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers," said Israel had committed to make it possible for Palestinians to evacuate from Rafah in Gaza's south before intensifying its campaign there to destroy Hamas.

Biden, whose remarks were recorded on Monday and broadcast on Tuesday, said there was an agreement in principle for a ceasefire between the two sides while hostages were released.

"Ramadan is coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out," he said.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin on the evening of March 10 and end on the evening of April 9.

CEASEFIRE SETS PATH TO TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Biden said a temporary ceasefire would ease relationships with Israel's neighbors and jumpstart a process for Palestinians to have their own state.

"That gives us time to begin to move in directions that a lot of Arab countries are prepared to move in. For example, Saudi Arabia is ready to recognize Israel. Jordan is. Egypt -- there are six other states. I’ve been working with Qatar," Biden said.

"If we get ... that temporary ceasefire, we’re going to be able to move in a direction where we can change the dynamic and not have a two-state solution immediately but a process to get to a two-state solution, a process to guarantee Israel’s security and the independence of the Palestinians," he said.

Biden said on Monday he hoped to have a ceasefire in the conflict by the following Monday. However, there has been little indication of progress in line with that pace from Israel, Hamas or the countries mediating between them, Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea of a two-state solution. In a statement his office billed as a response to Biden, Netanyahu described himself as pushing back against "pressure designed to end the war prematurely" and securing American public support for Israel.

Netanyahu did not specify what such pressures might be.

Biden, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, has seen support among young Americans and left-leaning progressive voters sink as a result of his staunch support for Israel and sky high death tolls among Palestinian civilians.

After Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, Israel launched a ground assault on Gaza, with nearly 30,000 people confirmed killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

Israel risked losing support from the rest of the world, the U.S. president said.

"There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah," Biden said.

"They have to -- and they’ve made a commitment to me they’re going to see to it that there’s an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas," he said.

"But it’s a process. And, look, Israel has had the overwhelming support of the vast majority of nations. If it keeps this up ... they’re going to lose support from around the world. And that is not in Israel’s interest."

Netanyahu, in his statement, noted a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll published on Monday that found 82% of Americans support Israel more than Hamas.

"We have had considerable success," he said. "This will help us continue the campaign until total victory."

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Perry and Cynthia Osterman)