KFAR AZZA, Israel (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie visited Israel on Sunday, saying the United States must stand “with Israel” in its war against the Hamas militant group.

Christie visited a kibbutz ravaged Oct. 7 by Hamas militants who started the war and met with Israeli leaders, wounded soldiers and families of Israeli hostages during his day-long visit. The former New Jersey governor is the first candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination to visit Israel.

“I came here because I wanted to see this for myself,” Christie said during a tour of Kfar Azza, one of more than 20 towns and villages attacked by Hamas militants on October 7. Israel says more than 1,200 people were killed and 239 others. are being held hostage in Gaza.

Planes buzzed overhead as Christie visited the kibbutz alongside the speaker of the Israeli parliament, Amir Ohana.

Christie, wearing a bulletproof vest and flanked by an entourage of Israeli soldiers, made his way through houses with bullet-riddled walls and bloodstained sofas. More than a month after the attack, many houses in Kfar Azza were burned and destroyed – the structures that remained standing were scrawled with Arabic graffiti.

“To be able to walk through a neighborhood like this and see what was done to the people, to still be able to walk into one of these houses and still feel the death, a month later, is something that I think the American people need. know.”

Christie, former President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal critic in the 2024 race, has cast himself as the only Republican willing to confront him directly. Trump has not visited Israel during the current campaign cycle, unlike President Joe Biden.

The Republican candidates all lined up behind Israel, even as the country comes under growing international pressure to stop or reduce an offensive in the Gaza Strip in which more than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and minors, were killed. according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which do not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. Around 2,700 people were missing and believed to be trapped or dead under the rubble.

Christie praised Biden’s handling of his wartime relationship with Israel. As widespread protests against Israeli bombing of Gaza in major cities like New York and Los Angeles draw thousands, the Biden administration has sought to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza while supporting the Israeli war effort by moving American troops and defense systems into the region. Biden has largely dodged calls to pressure Israel into a cease-fire.

Christie said he believes protesters calling for a ceasefire do not represent the vast majority of Americans.

“I don’t think it’s the role of the United States to instruct the State of Israel on how to ensure the safety and security of its people,” he said. “I think we can give advice, like friends give advice in private. But publicly, my view is that we must stand with Israel. »

During his visit, Christie watched a film of horrific footage taken from Hamas militants’ body cameras on October 7 and compiled by the Israeli military. The army screened the film to the international press and several world leaders who have visited Israel since the start of the war.

“I want the people of Israel to know that there are hundreds of millions of Americans who stand with them, who understand the atrocities that were committed and why, going forward, we absolutely must stand with them. of Israel,” Christie said.

Christie positioned himself as someone who, if elected, would defend American interests and democracy abroad. He has already traveled to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

This is his second trip to a country at war since he began his presidential bid, following a visit to Ukraine in August.

By far Trump’s most vocal critic in the Republican field, Christie has consistently found himself in the sub-10 percent range in national polls, far behind the former president.

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