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Israeli officials to meet top White House adviser, US official says

By Thomson Reuters Jun 20, 2024 | 9:08 AM

By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two top advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday amid tensions between the two allies over Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, a U.S. official said.

Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, will meet Sullivan as a larger, more formal “strategic dialogue” meeting was being rescheduled, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The White House official said the wider meeting has not been canceled but that details were being finalized.

“In the meantime, meetings with Israeli officials are being held throughout the week at expert and senior levels on a range of topics,” the official said.

Netanyahu on Tuesday issued an English-language video in which he said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had assured him that the Biden administration was working to lift restrictions on arms deliveries to Israel, an exchange the top U.S. diplomat declined to confirm.

In a rare expose of normally private high-level diplomatic conversations, Netanyahu also said he told Blinken that it was “inconceivable” that in the past few months Washington was “withholding weapons and ammunitions” to Israel.

The comment prompted retorts from the Biden administration.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about. We just don’t,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing on Tuesday.

Blinken said weapons shipments – with the exception of one with large bombs – were moving as usual given Israel faced security threats beyond Gaza, including from Hezbollah and Iran. He declined to comment on his private exchange with Netanyahu during a news conference on Tuesday.

The United States in May paused a shipment of 2,000 pound and 500-pound bombs due to concern over the impact they could have in densely-populated areas but Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of U.S. weaponry.

Scrutiny on Israel’s conduct in its military operation in Gaza has increased as the Palestinian death toll from the war has soared to above 37,000, according to health officials in the Hamas-run enclave and reduced Gaza to a wasteland.

The war started when Palestinian Hamas militants stormed across the border and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Biden in April warned Israel that the U.S. would stop supplying it weapons if Israeli forces make a major invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that is the last refuge for many displaced by the war.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt, Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Deepa Babington)