US President Joe Biden has called for an end to escalating attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Settler violence against Palestinians has increased since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel and Israel’s ongoing bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip.

According to Palestinian authorities, some Palestinians were killed by settlers. Human rights groups say settlers set fire to cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing them to evacuate to other areas.

Biden said attacks by “extremist settlers” must end.

“It has to stop. They must be held accountable. It has to stop now,” Biden said Wednesday.

Before the current round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas, which rules Gaza, settler attacks had increased steadily for months.

This escalation of violence began on October 7, when Hamas carried out an attack in southern Israel, according to Israeli authorities, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking around 220 others hostage.

Since the attack, Israel has imposed a “full siege” on the Gaza Strip and bombed the area. According to Palestinian authorities, at least 6,546 people were killed and more than 17,439 injured in the Israeli attack.

Tensions have risen in the occupied West Bank as Israel carried out mass arrests and stepped up military crackdowns and settlers launched attacks on Palestinians and forced some communities off their land.

The West Bank Protection Consortium, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and donor countries including the European Union, has said hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced by settler attacks.

Biden said settler attacks “pour gasoline on an already dangerous situation” but did not say what steps, if any, the U.S. would take to pressure Israel to curb the attacks, which sometimes take place in the presence of Israeli soldiers.

Biden questions the death toll in the Gaza Strip

The US president also said he had doubts about the accuracy of the death toll reported by Hamas authorities in Gaza from the ongoing fighting.

“I am sure innocents have been killed and that is the price of waging war,” Biden said.

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said the comment shows Biden appears unable to empathize with the Palestinians.

“I have been saying for years that Biden seems completely incapable of empathizing with the Palestinians,” Elgindy wrote in a social media post. “Today he confirmed it.”

Israel “preparing for ground invasion”

Biden also said that he had not directly asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for assurances that Israel would hold off an expected ground invasion of Gaza before hostages could be released.

“What I told him is that he should do this if possible to get these people out safely. It’s their decision,” Biden said at a news conference. “But I didn’t ask for it. I pointed out to him that if it was real, it should be done.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the decision on when Israeli forces would enter Gaza would be made by the government’s special war cabinet, but declined to provide details on timing or other information about the operation.

“We have already killed thousands of terrorists and this is just the beginning,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement.

“At the same time, we are preparing for a ground invasion. I won’t go into detail about when, how, or how many. Nor will I go into detail about the various calculations we make, most of which the public is unaware of, and that is how it should be.”

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