US again urges ‘de-escalation’ as Israel strikes on Gaza continue
Biden administration says 25 high-level diplomatic calls held to end violence, but Israel has ‘right to defend itself’.
As a barrage of Israeli air strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip continued late on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said “Israel has a right to defend itself” against rockets fired from the coastal Palestinian territory.
In brief comments to reporters, Biden said his “hope is that we’ll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later”, however.
At least 65 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Monday, after Hamas fired rockets towards Israel in response to a continuing Israeli crackdown on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
The United States, a major supporter of Israel that provides the country with $3.8bn in military aid annually, has faced calls to “put the brakes on the Israelis” as violence escalates in the occupied Palestinian territories and inside Israel itself.
Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.
“He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians. He also conveyed the United States’ encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm,” the statement reads.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also expressed the United States’ “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself” in a call with Netanyahu and “reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence”.
The State Department announced that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr was being dispatched to Israel to urge Israeli and Palestinian officials to de-escalate the conflict and bring an end to the violence.
Amr, currently the top State Department official for Israeli and Palestinian affairs, is a Lebanese American who served in US diplomatic roles for the Middle East from 2010 to 2017.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has also been reaching out to officials in the Middle East to try to quell the conflict, Blinken said at a news conference on Wednesday.
“We’ve been engaged with all parties, including the Palestinians, and that will continue,” Blinken said. “The most important thing now is for all sides, to cease the violence, to de-escalate and to try to move to calm.”
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the continuing Israeli air strikes on Gaza, the local health ministry said, while more than 300 Palestinians have been wounded. Six people in Israel, including a child, have been killed. The Israeli army said about 1,500 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards various locations in Israel.
Netanyahu late on Tuesday said Gaza rulers Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group would “pay a very heavy price for their belligerence” and said Israel was “at the height of a weighty campaign”. Hamas pledged to respond should Israel continue its air raids.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there had been more than 25 high-level calls and meetings by senior Biden administration officials with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan since the weekend.
“We’re at regular dialogue multiple times per day … with Egyptian and Qatari officials … who have significant influence over Hamas, and our objective here is de-escalation,” Psaki said.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said Biden’s administration has been “conducting intense diplomacy” but is facing pressure from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Republicans have argued that Biden is backing away from Washington’s strong relationship with Israel, while some progressive Democrats have criticised him for avoiding imposing some kind of sanctions against Israel for its actions against Palestinians, Hanna said.
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer issued a statement on Wednesday in support of Israel’s actions and condemning Hamas, but 25 Democrats also sent a letter to Blinken urging him to pressure Israel to stop the planned forced expulsions of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.
The forced displacement of Palestinian families in #SheikhJarrah is a blatant human rights violation.
I was proud to lead an effort with @repmarkpocan to call on @SecBlinken to exert diplomatic pressure on Israel to halt these evictions.
We must defend human rights everywhere. pic.twitter.com/ZIHtv5Sto6
— Congresswoman Marie Newman (@RepMarieNewman) May 12, 2021
Several Palestinian families are threatened with forced displacement from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which Jewish settlement groups have been attempting to take over for decades.
The United Nations last week urged Israel to call off the forced expulsions, warning such action could amount to war crimes.
In their letter on Wednesday, the US Democratic lawmakers – including Congresswomen Marie Newman, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – also said the move was against international law.
“We call upon the Department of State to exert diplomatic pressure to prevent these acts from taking place,” they said.