Biden discusses Gaza ceasefire with Egypt’s President el-Sisi
Phone call between US president and Egyptian counterpart comes as Secretary of State Blinken is heading to region.
US President Joe Biden has thanked Egypt for “its successful diplomacy” and coordination with the United States to reach a ceasefire to end 11 days of Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip and rocket-fire towards Israel.
In a statement on Monday, the White House said Biden discussed efforts to rebuild following the deadly assault on the besieged Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“The two leaders consulted on the urgent need to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need in Gaza and to support rebuilding efforts in a manner that benefits the people there and not Hamas,” the statement read.
Monday’s phone call came as Biden dispatched US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders this week, as well as visit Egypt and Jordan.
The Biden administration had faced widespread pressure, including from within his own Democratic Party, to push Israel to agree to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza – but the US president and his top officials had insisted that behind-the-scenes diplomacy was a better approach.
Egypt helped reach the truce between Israel and Hamas that came into force on Friday, and the country sent delegations to Tel Aviv and the occupied Palestinian territories to keep watch over the deal’s implementation.
Last week, el-Sisi pledged $500m to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza.
Nearly 250 Palestinians, including dozens of children, were killed in Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza, which also injured about 2,000 others, and damaged and destroyed many buildings and much critical infrastructure.
At least 12 people in Israel, including two children, were killed by rockets fired from the Strip by Palestinian armed groups.
The violence erupted after Israel’s plan to forcibly displace Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem and its attacks on Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound spurred widespread protests in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and inside Israel.
Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs Gaza, said it began firing rockets towards Israel in response to that Israeli crackdown.
The US State Department has said Blinken plans to focus during his trip on ensuring the Hamas-Israel ceasefire holds, and providing much-needed assistance to Palestinians.
Blinken will “discuss essential follow-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months”, the department said in a statement earlier on Monday.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from West Jerusalem on Sunday, said “the bigger question for the Blinken visit is whether this changes the calculations of the Biden administration”.
Since coming into office, Biden and his top officials had sought to “de-prioritise” the Israel-Palestine issue amid other foreign policy priorities. “Will they now change that and refocus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the US actively pursuing them?” Bays asked.
Meanwhile, some progressive US legislators continue to call on Washington to cancel a planned $735m weapons deal with the Israeli government, as well as recalibrate its relationship with Israel.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza came amid a growing push by lawmakers in Washington to question unconditional US military assistance to Israel, which totals $3.8bn annually.
Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US aid after Israel, and human rights advocates had previously urged the Biden administration to pressure el-Sisi, who has presided over a wide-reaching crackdown on journalists, rights advocates and perceived critics, to improve his government’s human rights record.