President Joe Biden landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for a brief but crucial trip meant to demonstrate U.S. solidarity with Israel ahead of an expected ground assault against Hamas and concerns about humanitarian aid in Gaza.
Biden was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, where the two leaders shook hands and embraced.
In remarks before a meeting with Netanyahu, Biden said he was “deeply sad and outraged” over a deadly blast at a Christian-run hospital in Gaza City that is estimated to have killed hundreds. Israeli and Palestinian authorities blamed each other for the fatal explosion.
“Based on what I’ve seen it appears as though it was done by the other team — not you,” Biden said, addressing Netanyahu. “But there’s a lot of people out there who are not sure, so we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.”
Biden later Wednesday participated in an emotional meeting with first responders and families of those missing. Asked what made him confident the Israelis weren’t behind the hospital strike, Biden said: “The data I was shown by my defense department.”
Biden did not provide any supporting evidence to the news media.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 200 to 300 people were killed in what it called a “targeted” Israeli bombing of al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in central Gaza. Israel said the blast was caused by a misfired rocket from a Palestinian militant group.
Biden initially planned to meet with Arab leaders at a summit hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, but the event was canceled following the explosion.
The president is scheduled to remain in Tel Aviv for his visit, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
Kirby said Biden will also meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, as well as first responders, families who lost loved ones in the attack and families whose relatives Hamas may be holding hostage in Gaza.
Netanyahu extended the invitation to Biden after Hamas’ terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7, which killed 1,400 people.
On his way back to the U.S. on Wednesday, Biden is expected to speak with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in discussions likely to focus on a path forward in Gaza as Israeli military leaders consider next steps and Palestinian civilians call for humanitarian aid.
NBC News reported Tuesday that Biden’s team earlier in the week was considering the idea of his visiting Israel. One of the conditions was that the visit needed to take place before Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza, according to multiple current and former administration officials.
It is the second time during Biden’s presidency that he has visited a war zone. In February, he traveled to Ukraine in a trip that was kept quiet until he arrived.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been engaging in shuttle diplomacy across the Middle East over the past week, meeting with Arab leaders from multiple countries. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also made a quick trip to Israel.
While Biden is on the ground, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, his pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.