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Biden says Hamas must be eliminated, US officials warn war could escalate

By Reuters

Published : Oct. 16, 2023 - 16:00

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A Palestinian woman kisses the sheet-covered body of a child killed during an Israeli airstrike, Sunday, outside al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip. (AP-Yonhap) A Palestinian woman kisses the sheet-covered body of a child killed during an Israeli airstrike, Sunday, outside al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip. (AP-Yonhap)

WASHINGTON -- US President Joe Biden said on Sunday he believes the Hamas militant group must be eliminated but there should be a path to a Palestinian state, after top US officials warned the war between Israel and Hamas could escalate.

Biden did not think American troops would be necessary on the ground as Israel has one of the "finest fighting forces," even as American warships headed to the area amid growing clashes on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Israel unleashed a ferocious bombing campaign over Gaza in retaliation for unprecedented attacks by Hamas eight days ago that killed some 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.

When asked if he believes Hamas must be eliminated entirely, Biden said "Yes, I do. But there needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state," he said during a CBS "60 Minutes" interview broadcast on Sunday.

The US president warned it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza but that "taking out" Hezbollah and Hamas was a "a necessary requirement." He said "It would be a mistake to ... for Israel to occupy ... Gaza again."

Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It withdrew its settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, before Hamas' takeover of the Strip in 2007.

The conflict has sent tensions soaring.

"There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north and, of course, Iran's involvement," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS earlier in the day.

Gaza authorities say more than 2,670 people have been killed there, a quarter of them children. Casualties are expected to rise as Israel prepares for a ground assault on the tiny, densely populated enclave that could start within days.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced deployment of a second aircraft carrier group late on Saturday, calling it a sign of "our resolve to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this war."

The aircraft carrier Dwight Eisenhower will join a small fleet including the massive Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean.

"Iran is the elephant in the room," a US official briefed on the situation said about the increasing military presence. "The carriers are accompanied by warships and attack planes. Every effort is being made to stop this from becoming a regional conflict."

Biden said his message to Iran is to not escalate the conflict.

Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned on Sunday his country could act, telling Al Jazeera that it had conveyed a message to Israeli officials that "if they do not cease their atrocities in Gaza, Iran cannot simply remain an observer."

"If the scope of the war expands, significant damages will also be inflicted upon America," he warned.

Biden told CBS the threat of terrorism in the US has increased due to growing unrest in the Middle East. He said, however, the US can take care of wars in Israel and Ukraine and still maintain its "international defense."

Violence on Israel's northern border is already escalating. Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters launched attacks on Israeli army posts and a northern border village on Sunday; Israel retaliated with strikes in Lebanon.

The US is urging Israel to hold off on its ground offensive to allow humanitarian efforts for Gaza's residents trapped in the area, several US officials said.

Sullivan discussed a new weapons package for Israel and Ukraine that would be "significantly higher" than the previously reported $2 billion. He told CBS that Biden planned to have intensive talks on the package this week with the US Congress, which has been hobbled by Republicans' struggles to pick a new speaker of the House of Representatives.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, speaking in Tel Aviv on Sunday, said the US Senate could move first to approve more funding for Israel. "We're not waiting for the House (of Representatives)," he said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Sunday he is traveling to the region with other senators in coming days to push continued negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Graham said he intended to introduce a bill that would "allow military action by the United States in conjunction with Israel to knock Iran out of the oil business" if Iran attacks Israel. (Reuters-Yonhap)