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US national security adviser Sullivan met Israel's Gallant again, White House says

Sullivan speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held a second day of talks on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as the U.S. presses its case against Israel launching a ground offensive in Rafah.

The White House meeting came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly blocked an Israeli delegation from meeting American counterparts when the U.S. allowed a UN resolution demanding a Gaza ceasefire to be approved by abstaining from a vote on it.

U.S. President Joe Biden is trying to prevent Israel from launching a ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah because of dire humanitarian conditions there and the risk of civilian casualties.

Rafah is the last refuge for about half of Gaza's 2.3 million population, many of them forced to cluster there because of fighting elsewhere.

More than 32,000 people have been killed in Gaza, Palestinian authorities estimate, since Israel launched an operation there in response to Hamas militants' killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, briefing reporters on Air Force One, said Sullivan pledged "ironclad" U.S. support for Israel and that the two officials discussed the need for Israel "to do more to sustain and expand humanitarian assistance going into Gaza."

"It's critical that Israel do whatever is possible to prevent civilian casualties and to conduct operations as strategically and precisely as possible and target operations to protect civilians in Rafah," she said.

Biden, addressing a crowd in Raleigh, North Carolina, was briefly interrupted by protesters shouting for the need for an increase in assistance into Gaza.

"They have a point. We need to get a lot more care into Gaza," Biden said.

U.S. officials have been trying for weeks to negotiate a deal in which sick, elderly and wounded hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a six-week ceasefire and the release of some Palestinian prisoners.

A U.S. official said on Monday that progress has been made in recent days in the negotiations.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Nandita Bose aboard Air Force One; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)