President Biden said on Monday that Israel should not proceed with a major ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah without a “credible plan” to protect more than one million people who are sheltering there.
Mr. Biden spoke after meeting at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key figure in the push for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. It was the first face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since the Israel-Hamas war started.
“Many people there have been displaced — displaced multiple times, fleeing the violence to the north, and now they’re packed into Rafah exposed and vulnerable,” Mr. Biden said during an appearance with King Abdullah. “They need to be protected.”
The visit came as King Abdullah sought to shore up international support for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza that would permanently halt the fighting.
Mr. Biden has rejected the idea of a general cease-fire, saying Israel has a right to defend itself. But he has pushed for a pause in the fighting that could allow for the release of hostages held by Hamas and something “more enduring.”
Much of Jordan’s population is ethnically Palestinian, putting the country — a close U.S. ally that has a peace treaty with Israel — in a tricky position as it navigates the fallout from the war.
King Abdullah said an Israeli invasion of Rafah was “certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who had been pushed into Rafah since the war started,” King Abdullah said. “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting cease-fire now. This war must end.”
Mr. Biden issued a forceful condemnation of the soaring death toll in Gaza, where health officials say more than 28,000 people have been killed since the start of the war.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Mr. Biden said of the deaths. “Every innocent life in Gaza is a tragedy.”
While Mr. Biden’s criticism of the war has grown more blunt in the four months since the Oct. 7 attack, the United States has not signaled that it plans major policy changes, such as conditioning aid to Israel for its military campaign.
On Monday, when asked if Israel would face any consequences for how it goes about its next military campaign, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said that he was not going to get into “hypotheticals.”
He said that the United States was working to influence how Israel conducted its war.
“There have been moments and there continue to be moments where we have the opportunity and have taken the opportunity to shape their thinking and to help influence the way they have conducted some of these operations,” he said. “And that remains today.”
Both Mr. Biden and King Abdullah said the conflict should end with a two-state solution.
“I say this as a long, lifelong supporter of Israel,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s the only path that guarantees Israel’s security for the long term.”
King Abdullah said that “this is the only solution that will guarantee peace and security for the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the entire region.”
Egypt and Qatar, acting as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, have led talks aimed at halting the fighting and freeing hostages held in Gaza. The Biden administration has been actively involved in those negotiations, working publicly and behind the scenes to try to advance a cease-fire deal.
On Monday, Mr. Biden said the United States was working on a hostage deal with Israel and Hamas that could bring at least a six-week pause that could “take the time to build something more enduring.”
The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, was expected to travel to Cairo for talks on the hostages on Tuesday, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the discussions. Mr. Burns’s planned trip was disclosed by a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel publicly dismissed a Hamas proposal last week, Israeli officials have signaled that their government is still open to negotiation. The mere fact that more talks will be taking place in Cairo this week is seen as a positive sign.
Jordan and Israel share a border, in addition to maintaining a crucial regional alliance. The kingdom is the custodian of the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, a key holy site in Islam that is also revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. The compound has often been a source of disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.
But relations between Jordan and Israel have grown more tense in recent years. And since Israel launched its retaliatory war against Hamas in Gaza, King Abdullah has repeatedly criticized how Israel has carried out its assault.