Israeli defense minister to visit D.C. amid tensions over Gaza

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will visit Washington to meet with senior U.S. leaders on Sunday, the Israeli government announced, as tensions continue to rise between the Biden administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Gallant will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and others, the Israeli government said.

The meeting, which was at Austin’s invitation, comes days after Blinken confronted Israeli leaders about the trajectory of the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration has pressed the Israelis to slow the military advance in Gaza and reduce civilian casualties to little success, and top Democrats have increased explicit criticism of the country in recent weeks.

During a visit to Tel Aviv on Friday, Blinken said an Israeli invasion of Rafah — the last remaining major settlement in Gaza — would be a “mistake” and “something we don’t support.”

“And it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas, which is necessary,” he said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said that an invasion of Rafah is necessary and will go forward.

“I told him that I hope we would do this with U.S. support, but if necessary — we will do it alone,” Netanyahu said Friday, referring to a conversation with Blinken.

Gallant said his meetings will be focused on defense strategy.

“At the top of the list of priorities: the ways to dismantle Hamas and eliminate it as a military and governmental body, the continued strengthening of the [Israel Defense Forces] and the preservation of our qualitative advantage in the Middle East,” he said on social media.

The Biden administration has also pressed Israel on humanitarian aid, as nonprofit groups warn that Gaza is suffering from widespread famine. An American port facility in Gaza began construction this week, as the U.S. again urged Israel to let more aid into the region.

Negotiators from Israel, Qatar, the U.S. and Hamas have meanwhile continued talks on a second hostage agreement that would see a pause in fighting. After rejecting a deal earlier this month, Israeli negotiators said Sunday the country would accept terms that would free about 700 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of 40 hostages, according to Israeli media.

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