Biden, Saudi Crown Prince Discuss Efforts to Contain Israeli-Hamas Conflict

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(Bloomberg) -- US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke on Tuesday as part of efforts to prevent the conflict between Hamas and Israel from spreading and drawing in more countries and groups.

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They discussed “diplomatic and military efforts to deter state and non-state actors from widening the conflict,” according to the White House. They agreed to pursue “broader diplomatic efforts to maintain stability across the region.”

It was their first call since Gaza-based Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

The Saudi readout said Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, emphasized the need to “explore means of halting the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people” and to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip, which has been under an intense Israeli bombardment since Hamas’s attack.

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden said aid was not flowing into Gaza “fast enough.”

The leaders commended what aid’s been allowed into Gaza so far and called on Hamas to immediately release hostages abducted during its incursion. The group, designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, is thought to be holding around 220 people.

Hamas killed more than more than 1,400 people in its attack on southern Israel. Thousands have been killed in the retaliatory air strikes in Gaza, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.

The US and other nations are pressuring Israel to delay or limit an expected ground offensive on Gaza to give more time for hostage negotiations. Four women, including two American citizens, have been freed so far.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have criticized Israel’s airstrikes and warned it against carrying out a ground assault, saying it would worsen the humanitarian crisis there.

Biden traveled to Israel on Oct. 18 to show support and was meant to visit Jordan the same day for a summit with Arab leaders. But they canceled it after an explosion at a hospital in Gaza that Arab leaders blamed on Israel.

Initial US and UK intelligence assessments backed up Israel’s claim that Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group, had fired a rocket that malfunctioned and landed near the hospital. Nonetheless, anger in the Arab world and wider Middle East is rising.

“The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said on Saturday. “That is a very, very dangerous message. And the consequences of continued international apathy and inaction will be catastrophic — on us all.”

A ground war is likely to further inflame public sentiment across the Middle East.

Biden has accused Hamas of carrying out its attack in part to stymie efforts by Israel to formalize diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. The US and Saudis have been working on a framework for the kingdom to recognize Israel in exchange for security guarantees.

The talks were set to include concessions of some kind for the Palestinians and those efforts now are in limbo.

In their call, Biden and the crown prince both said there needed to be a “sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians as soon as the crisis subsides,” the White House said. Those efforts should build on “the work that was already underway between Saudi Arabia and the United States over recent months.”

White House Weighs Defense Treaties to Aid Israel-Saudi Pact

The Saudi-Israeli normalization push had helped ease tensions between the White House and Riyadh. Relations were low when Biden, who’d vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” during his presidential campaign, came to power. They worsened last year when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused oil prices to surge past $100 a barrel and Saudi Arabia resisted US pressure to pump much more oil.

Israel has signed diplomatic deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan since 2020, but normalization with Saudi Arabia, the biggest economy in the Middle East, would be even more significant.

(Updates throughout with Saudi readout, details)

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