Conflicts & War

Biden expresses support for ceasefire in call to Netanyahu

(Update 2: changes headline, dateline; re-ledes with Biden-Netanyahu call)

Washington, May 17 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Monday expressed his support for a ceasefire in the ongoing armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians during a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a readout of the call.

“The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the White House said.

This is the first time that Biden has publicly taken a position favoring a ceasefire after having been pressured by fellow Democratic party lawmakers and officials in other countries to play a more active role in the Middle East crisis.

However, the US leader limited himself to simply supporting a ceasefire and did not ask Netanyahu for an “immediate” cessation of hostilities, as other Democrats – including 29 senators who on Sunday made public a communique urging that he take such action.

Up to now, the US government has avoided publicly calling for a ceasefire, although it has offered to mediate if the parties want to hold talks.

The White House did not mention what Netanyahu’s response to Biden’s expressed stance was, saying only that the two leaders agreed to stay in contact.

On the other hand, in the call Biden reiterated the position Washington has maintained since the start of the crisis eight days ago.

Specifically, he once again expressed his “firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks” by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has been the de factor governing power in Gaza since 2007.

In addition, Biden “welcomed efforts to address intercommunal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem” and “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the White House said in its statement on the call with Netanyahu.

“The two leaders discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” the statement said.

Young Palestinians have been clashing with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City in what was one of the sparks leading to the current violence.

Despite the tone of concern in the White House statement, Washington on Monday for the third time blocked a proposal in the UN Security Council to call for a cessation of the violence.

The White House statement came hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the US to intervene to halt the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, which have left at least 200 people dead and 1,300 others wounded.

Abbas’ comments came during a meeting with the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, currently in the region trying to find a diplomatic solution to the violence, which entered its eighth consecutive day on Monday.

Washington has no direct contact with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, and which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US.

More than 3,150 rockets have been launched from Gaza into the Israeli territory since last week. Some 460 of them went down over Gaza without reaching Israeli territory while more than 1,150 were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In Israel, at least 10 people have died and 300 others have been wounded by rocket fire, according to emergency services.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that more than 38,000 people in Gaza sought refuge in schools after they evacuated their homes in fear of airstrikes.

Egypt has reopened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow stranded Palestinians and patients to obtain treatment at Egyptian hospitals.

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