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Biden meets with Jordanian king as Israel begins Rafah evacuation

Ahead of his lunch with Jordan's King Abdullah II, President Joe Biden "reiterated his clear position on Rafah" in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden greet Jordan's King Abdullah II.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will hold an informal meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House on Monday, after Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of parts of Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. 

King Abdullah last met with Biden in February, becoming the first Arab head of state to set foot in the White House since the United States threw its support behind Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. A Jordanian official told Al-Monitor that the pair will have a private lunch rather than a formal bilateral meeting. 

Their meeting comes as Jordan, which shares a long border with Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, and other Arab states sound the alarm over Israel’s expected ground offensive in Rafah. 

Rafah is housing more than 1.4 million Palestinians who are sheltering from the war. Israel believes Hamas’ leadership and four remaining battalions are entrenched in the city bordering Egypt. 

The Israeli military on Monday ordered about 100,000 people in Rafah’s eastern neighborhoods to “immediately” evacuate to an “expanded humanitarian zone” in the Al-Mawasi area on Gaza's Mediterranean coast. 

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the evacuation order represented a "dangerous escalation" on the part of both Israel and its top partner, the United States

"The US administration, alongside the occupation, bears responsibility for this terrorism," he said.

Before his lunch with King Abdullah, Biden "reiterated his clear position on Rafah" in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the looming Rafah operation. US officials have said Israel has yet to present them with a credible plan to evacuate civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid. 

Biden also reportedly implored his Israeli counterpart to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing that was shuttered Sunday after Hamas fired rockets at the crucial humanitarian pathway, killing four Israeli soldiers, Axios first reported. 

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday and offered condolences for the IDF soldiers killed in the rocket attack near the Kerem Shalom crossing. Austin “reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages, and stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid,” the Pentagon said in a press release.

"We have not seen a detailed plan that indicates how that would be taken into account to the scale necessary as it relates to the number of displaced persons,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters on Monday.

Austin told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee last week that he was concerned with Israel’s “lack of execution” on an evacuation plan for Rafah’s 1.4 million civilians, though he said he had seen some steps implemented. "They have a plan. The question is, can you execute — are you executing the plan, and how much time are you allocating for it?” Austin told members of the committee on Thursday.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in the seven-month Israeli military campaign, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Israel launched its counteroffensive in response to the Hamas-led cross-border attack on Oct. 7, during which the militants killed 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage. 

Israel’s promised invasion of Rafah has been one of the sticking points in the cease-fire and hostage negotiations brokered by Qatar and Egypt. Intense shuttle diplomacy efforts resumed Friday when CIA Director Bill Burns flew to Cairo and Doha for negotiations, before traveling on Monday to Israel to meet with Netanyahu. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Hamas delegation in Cairo returned to Doha to consult with the group’s political leadership. 

Netanyahu has said he “cannot accept” Hamas’ demands for a permanent end to the war. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had previously urged the militant group to accept what he described as an "extraordinarily generous" offer.