Biden: U.S. will halt deliveries of offensive weapons if Israel invades Rafah

Joe Biden

RACINE, Wis. — President Joe Biden said during an interview on Wednesday that he would halt the shipment of U.S. offensive weapons to Israel if the country follows through on its plan to conduct an all-out ground offensive in Rafah.

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It was the first time Biden has threatened to withhold military aid to Israel, and it was his most pointed statement to date about the tactics used during the seven-month war on the Gaza Strip against Hamas militants, The Washington Post reported.

Biden made his comments during an interview with CNN that aired on Wednesday.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those (2,000-pound bombs supplied by the U.S.) and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden told CNN. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah -- they haven’t gone in Rafah yet -- if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities -- that deal with that problem.”

The interview was broadcast hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that Biden’s decision last week to delay the delivery of thousands of heavy bombs was linked to the ground offensive in Rafah, The New York Times reported.

Rafah is one of the last strongholds in Gaza and more than 1 million Palestinians have taken refuge in the area, according to the newspaper.

Biden had been under pressure to limit arms as the humanitarian crisis deepened in the Gaza Strip, CNN reported. He had resisted calls -- including those from members of his own party -- and had strongly supported Israel’s efforts to go after the militants.

The refugee issue apparently changed the president’s mind, CNN reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly defied U.S. demands on major issues, The Washington Post reported. Israel seized the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, cutting off the main artery for humanitarian aid, according to the newspaper.

The Israeli military also warned more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate, even as aid groups have said there was nowhere for the residents to go.

During his interview with CNN, Biden said he warned Netanyahu against sending ground forces into the civilian areas of Rafah.

“It’s just wrong,” Biden said. “We’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells. I’ve made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet that they’re not going to get our support if in fact they go into these population centers.”

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