President Biden said on Monday that Israel should not proceed with a major ground offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah without a “credible plan” to protect more than a million people sheltering there.

Biden spoke after meeting at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key figure in pushing for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. It was the first face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since the war between Israel and Hamas began.

“Many people there have been displaced, displaced multiple times, fleeing violence to the north, and now they are crowded into Rafah, exposed and vulnerable,” Biden said during an appearance with King Abdullah. “They need to be protected.”

The visit came as King Abdullah sought to rally international support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza that would permanently stop the fighting.

Biden has rejected the idea of ​​a general ceasefire, saying Israel has the right to defend itself. But he has pushed for a pause in the fighting that could allow the release of the hostages held by Hamas and something “more lasting.”

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 complicated position as it navigates the fallout from the war.

King Abdullah said an Israeli invasion of Rafah “would surely produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The situation is already unbearable for more than a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war began,” King Abdullah said. “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. “This war must end.”

Biden strongly condemned the rising death toll in Gaza, where health officials say more than 28,000 people have died since the start of the war.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Biden said of the deaths. “Every innocent life in Gaza is a tragedy.”

While Biden’s criticism of the war has become more forceful in the four months since the Oct. 7 attack, the United States has given no signs that it plans major policy changes, such as placing conditions on military aid to Israel.

On Monday, when asked whether Israel would face any consequences for how it carried out its next military campaign, White House spokesman John F. Kirby said he was not going to enter into “hypotheses.”

He said the United States was working to influence the way Israel conducted its war.

“There have been times and there continue to be times where we’ve had the opportunity and we’ve taken advantage of it to shape their thinking and help influence the way they’ve conducted some of these operations,” he said. “And that remains true today.”

Both Biden and King Abdullah said the conflict should end with a two-state solution.

“I say this as a long-time supporter of Israel,” Biden said. “That is the only path that guarantees Israel’s long-term security.”

King Abdullah said that “this is the only solution that will ensure peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the entire region.”

Egypt and Qatar, acting as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, have led talks aimed at stopping 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 ceasefire agreement.

On Monday, 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 time to build something more lasting.”

CIA Director William J. Burns was expected to travel to Cairo to discuss the hostages on Tuesday, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity about the discussions.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel publicly rejected a Hamas proposal last week, Israeli officials have signaled that his government is still open to negotiation. The mere fact that more talks are taking place in Cairo this week is seen as a positive sign.

By Sam