Biden postpones Jordan visit after Gaza hospital blast: White House

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WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden has postponed his visit to Jordan after a deadly strike on a Gaza hospital and will go only to Israel on his Middle East trip, the White House said on Tuesday.

He had been due to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“After consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, President Biden will postpone his travel to Jordan and the planned meeting with these two leaders and President Sisi of Egypt,” a White House official said in a statement released.

“The president sent his deepest condolences for the innocent lives lost in the hospital explosion in Gaza, and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded. He looks forward to consulting in person with these leaders soon, and agreed to remain regularly and directly engaged with each of them over the coming days.”

His already fraught trip to the region got more complicated after hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a strike on a Gaza hospital on Tuesday.

Palestinian authorities say Israel’s military was responsible; Israeli authorities denied involvement in the strike, which occurred during a massive Israeli bombardment of the enclave and killed about 500.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly cancelled the planned meeting with Mr Biden after the strike, then Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled the entire summit that was supposed to bring the US President together with the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.

Mr Biden left Washington within hours for the complex diplomatic mission, aimed at showing support for long-time US ally Israel, calming the region and shoring up humanitarian efforts for Gaza.

What he can accomplish in the wake of the hospital strike and conflicting reports about responsibility for it is now unclear.

“This sort of murky but horrific event makes diplomacy harder and increases escalation risks,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at International Crisis Group.

“Biden’s visit was meant to underline that the US has a grip on the situation. A tragic incident like this shows how hard it is to keep the war in check.”

Mr Biden is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Failure to meet Mr Abbas or any Palestinian official, while meeting Israelis on their soil, may undermine Mr Biden’s diplomatic message and draw critics at home and abroad. The US is leaning heavily on Egypt to help with humanitarian efforts.

After the hospital blast, Mr Biden’s efforts to date in the Israel-Hamas war were criticized by US Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress.

Ms Tlaib, a Democrat who had previously been muted in her criticism of Mr Biden’s policy, said in a post on social media platform X: “This is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate. Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many Palestinian Americans and Muslims Americans like me.”

More than 70 religious and activist groups, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest US Muslim civil rights group, called on Mr Biden to demand a ceasefire in Gaza during his visit. AFP, REUTERS

This is a developing story.

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