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Biden Scheduled for Israel Visit as Gaza Ground Invasion Looms

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Sept. 20, 2023.
FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Sept. 20, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Israel on Wednesday in an act to show "ironclad" support amid attempts by Washington to prevent the escalating war against Hamas militants in Gaza from spilling over into wider Middle East conflict.

Speaking in Israel after completing a whistle stop regional tour, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden's visit would be a statement of "solidarity with Israel" and an "ironclad commitment to its security."

The U.S. Secretary Monday met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While meeting the Israeli official, Blinken signaled that there was no firm agreement on humanitarian relief, but there was a "commitment" to work on a plan to be enacted ahead of and during Biden's visit.

Blinken also said the two sides were discussing the "possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm's way."

Biden hopes to "hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas," Blinked added.

As an act of solidarity, Washington has already sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean "to deter hostile actions against Israel."

Biden's trip will happen 12 days after Hamas burst through Israel's heavily fortified Gaza border, shooting, stabbing and burning to death over 1,400 people, among them civilians and foreign nationals.

Shell-shocked Israel has responded with withering air strikes that have killed more than 2,700 people, also mainly civilians.

The Middle Eastern nation also imposed a crippling siege on Gaza and deployed tens of thousands of troops to the border in preparation for a full-scale ground offensive.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas while also seeking to rescue the at least 199 hostages taken into Gaza by the Islamist Hamas, which has released a video of one of the captives, French-Israeli woman Mia Shem.

Her mother, Keren Shem, made an emotional plea for her safe return, at a Tel Aviv press conference.

"I ask world leaders that my daughter be returned to us in the state that she is today, as well as the other hostages," Shem said.

"I am begging the world to bring my baby back home," she added.

Israel army spokesman Jonathan Conricus Tuesday said their forces "will commence the enhanced military activities when the timing suits the goal".

Conricus stressed "if hostages are dead, that is the responsibility of Hamas and Hamas will pay the price."

Jamil Abdullah, a Palestinian-Swede that hopes to flee the conflict in Gaza said, "the situation is catastrophic beyond what I could have imagined."

"There are corpses in the streets. Buildings are crashing down on their inhabitants. Blood is everywhere. The smell of the dead is everywhere," Abdullah added.

AFP reporters in Gaza said mortuaries were overflowing, and corpses wrapped in white body bags were even being stored in an ice cream truck.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says more than one million Palestinians — almost half of Gaza's population of 2.4 million — have fled their homes.

World Health Organization regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari said Gaza was barreling towards "real catastrophe."

"There are 24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left," Al-Mandhari added.

Israel has demanded that residents of north Gaza leave for the south, hoping to clear the area of civilians in preparation for a perilous ground assault that would involve grueling urban combat.