Biden warns Israel against occupying Gaza as ground invasion appears near

President Joe Biden warned Israel against occupying Gaza in one of his most notable public calls for restraint as the Israelis respond to this month’s terror attacks by Hamas.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Biden said it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza. Israel has been signaling it is preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza, even as a humanitarian crisis grows inside the coastal Palestinian enclave. Biden has called for the protection of civilians, and the United States has been working to alleviate shortages of food, water and gas.

“What happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people,” Biden told interviewer Scott Pelley.

Biden said he believes Hamas should be eliminated entirely, “but there needs to be a Palestinian Authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”

The comments amount to one of the few times the US president has called on Israel to use some sort of restraint in responding to the Hamas attacks that left 1,400 dead. In its response, Israel unleashed a massive bombing campaign against the northern Gaza Strip, from which Hamas launched its attack.

Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict ends.

“We have no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza. We have no desire to rule over the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians,” Herzog said.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden notably did not say it was time for a ceasefire.

“Look, there’s a fundamental difference. Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust,” he said.

“So I think Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians. … The Israelis are gonna do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

The situation in Gaza has quickly become a humanitarian disaster, and the Israelis told civilians living in the northern part of the area to evacuate to the south ahead of an anticipated invasion. However, many human rights organizations have called that impossible as Israeli strikes have damaged infrastructure and Palestinians face a lack of housing in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

Biden told Pelley he believes that there needs to be a humanitarian corridor to help civilians trapped amid the fighting and that Israel will abide by the “rules of war.”

“I’m confident that Israel is going to act under the measure … the rules of war,” Biden said. “There’s standards that democratic institutions and countries go by. And so I’m confident that there’s gonna be an ability for the innocents in Gaza to be able to have access to medicine and food and water.”

The president said he does not anticipate American troops engaging in combat in the area as Israel readies its ground counterattack. The US will provide Israel “everything they need,” Biden said.

He added “there is no clear evidence” that Iran is behind the attacks on Israel.

“Now, Iran constantly supports Hamas and Hezbollah,” Biden said. “I don’t mean that. But in terms of were they, did they have fore knowledge; did they help plan the attack? There’s no evidence of that at this point.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Nikki Carvajal and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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