Biden supports ceasefire between Israel, Palestinian militants, but stops short of demanding halt to conflict

Biden supports ceasefire between Israel, Palestinian militants, but stops short of demanding halt to conflict

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden expressed “support” for a ceasefire in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, the eighth day of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

“The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the White House said in a statement. The White House said Biden “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians” and that the two leaders “discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.”

Biden’s move signalled U.S. concern for an end to Israel’s part of hostilities with Hamas, although it fell short of joining growing Democratic demands for an immediate ceasefire. The White House said the president reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signalled earlier that the U.S. did not intend to pressure the two sides. “Ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire,” Blinken told reporters during a trip to Denmark.

The U.S., Israel’s top ally, also blocked for the third time what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation United Nations Security Council expressing “grave concern” over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives. The final U.S. rejection Monday killed the Security Council statement, at least for now.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States instead was focusing on “quiet, intensive diplomacy.”

Global Affairs Canada has called on all involved in the conflict to “take steps to immediately end all violence, prevent further loss of life, protect all civilians, and de-escalate tensions.”

“All parties must uphold international law,” the department said in a statement on Sunday. 

The statement went on to say: “Canada supports Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbours within secure boundaries and fully supports Israel’s right to assure its own security. This right also comes with immense responsibility and obligation to act in accordance with international law.

“The use of force has led to significant civilian loss of life and we urge utmost restraint.”

Earlier on Monday, the Israeli military unleashed another heavy wave of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. International diplomacy to end the weeklong war that has killed hundreds appeared to make little headway.

Israel has said it will press on for now with its attacks against Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. The latest attacks destroyed the five-storey building housing the Hamas-run Religious Affairs Ministry, a building Israel said housed the main operations centre of Hamas’ internal security forces.

A Palestinian woman reacts following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Monday. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Israel also killed a top Gaza leader of Islamic Jihad, another militant group which the Israeli military blamed for some of the thousands of rocket attacks launched at Israel in recent days. Israel said its strikes destroyed 15 kilometres of tunnels used by militants.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 212 Palestinians have been killed in the week of airstrikes, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded. Ten people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.

Violence has also erupted between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, leaving scores of people injured. On Monday, a Jewish man attacked last week by a group of Arabs in the central city of Lod died of his wounds, according to police.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130 and has released the names of and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were “eliminated.” The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, does not give a breakdown of how many casualties were militants or civilians.

‘As long as necessary’ 

Netanyahu met with top security officials on Monday evening and later said Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza. “We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens,” he said.

The new airstrikes, which hit Gaza overnight Monday and again in the evening, hollowed out one floor of a multistorey concrete building and killed five people. Gaza City’s mayor, Yahya Sarraj, said the strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure. He said water supplies to hundreds of households were disrupted.

“We are trying hard to provide water, but the situation remains difficult,” he said.

An Israeli officer enters to check an apartment in a damaged building in Ashdod, Israel, on Monday following a rocket attack from Gaza. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

The United Nations has warned that the territory’s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel. Gaza already experiences daily power outages for between eight and 12 hours, and tap water is undrinkable. Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the territory’s electricity distribution company, said it has fuel to supply Gaza with electricity for two or three days.

Palestinian officials said Israel pledged to open its only cargo crossing with Gaza for several hours on Tuesday to allow humanitarian aid — including fuel, food and medicine — to enter. The Kerem Shalom crossing is the main entry point for goods entering the territory.

Israel also said it targeted what it suspected was a Hamas submersible weapon preparing for an attack on Israel’s coast.

The war broke out May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and over a legal case in which eight Palestinian families face losing their occupied East Jerusalem homes to Jewish settlers.

More protests were expected across the region Tuesday in response to a call by Palestinian citizens of Israel for a general strike. The protest has the support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said the group has been contacted by the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of cease-fire efforts but “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people.”

Published at Mon, 17 May 2021 22:08:05 +0000