US deeply disappointed over Netanyahu's criticisms

By Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House expressed deep disappointment over criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the United States on Thursday amid tensions between the two allies over Israel's war in Gaza.

The White House response came as national security adviser Jake Sullivan held meetings with Netanyahu's top two aides to discuss the Gaza conflict and other issues. Similar talks were expected between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Israelis.

Netanyahu on Tuesday issued an English-language video in which he said 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 account of normally private 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.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby addressed the comments in a briefing with reporters, saying the U.S. had directly expressed displeasure to Israel.

"I think we've made it abundantly clear to our Israeli counterparts through various vehicles our deep disappointment in the statements expressed in that video and our concerns over the accuracy in the statements made," Kirby said.

"The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is absolutely not accurate," he said.

Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel's minister for strategic affairs, spoke with 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.

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.

"There is one shipment of high payload munitions that we have put under review and that remains under review. That's not a bottleneck. That's a policy review," said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

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, Humeyra Pamuk and Trevor Hunnicutt, additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Deepa Babington and Josie Kao)