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President Biden spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid a push from Democrats in Congress for a cease-fire in the escalating conflict between Israel and militant group Hamas.
“I’ll be speaking with the prime minister in an hour and I’ll be able to talk with you after that,” Biden told reporters at the White House just before 2 pm when asked about the pressure in his party to make a statement seeking a cease-fire.
In a read-out of the call later, the White House said Biden did express support for a cease-fire while maintaining Israel’s right to defend itself from attacks from a barrage of rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The White House said Biden “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks [and] welcomed efforts to address inter-communal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem.”
“He encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. The two leaders discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” the White House said, adding that Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end.”
The two leaders agreed that they and their teams would remain in close touch.
Biden’s mention of the call with Netanyahu came within an hour after White House press secretary Jen Psaki was hit with an onslaught of questions about the president’s stance on the escalating violence between the Israelis and Hamas.
Psaki said the administration is interested in trying to de-escalate the fighting as the situation continues to spiral amid an explosion of violence and death in recent days.
The administration is viewing the situation from the standpoint “that our focus, our goal, every single action we take, every statement we make, is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground,” she said.
Biden spoke over the weekend to Israeli and Palestinian leaders about Israel’s “right to defend itself against terrorist attacks,” referring to the thousands of rockets the militant group has fired into Israel.
Biden “stressed” to Hamas that it must “cease” sending missiles into Israel, said Psaki.
“He also expressed his concern that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children, and he raised concerns about the safety of journalists, including those who had to leave the building from these that where the Associated Press was based and reinforced the need to ensure their protection,” she said.
Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, 58 of them children, in retaliatory strikes. More than a thousand have been wounded.
In Israel, at least 10 people have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy.
Psaki was asked about the 29 far-left Democrats calling for a cease-fire and the comments from some lawmakers — including socialists Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with apartheid.
“Our message is: Sometimes you have to step back from politics for a moment. It’s not easy to do. And we recognize and agree that watching the lives lost of these Palestinian children, of these families, the fear you see in the eyes of the Israeli people, it is heartbreaking,” Psaki said.
“We want to bring an end to the violence. We want to de-escalate the situation on the ground. The role we feel we can do that through, the most effective way we feel we can do that is through quiet and intensive diplomacy, and that is what our focus is on at this point in time,” she continued.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled Monday that the administration was not joining calls for an immediate cease-fire even as the fighting stretched into a second week.
Along with the contingent of Democrats, the UN Security Council and other global leaders have urged the administration to take a stronger approach to end the violence.
Blinken, speaking in Copenhagen, said he has reached out to the US’ partners to try to de-escalate the hostilities and would continue making calls Monday.
“In all of these engagements, we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said.
Psaki added that the administration believes the only way to a lasting end to the conflict is through reaching an agreement on a two-state solution.
But getting all sides to agree on a two-state solution has bedeviled the peace process for decades and has frustrated previous administrations.
“We feel we have strong relationships with Israeli leaders. We have strong relationships with key partners in the region, and we’re hopeful that those conversations, that quiet diplomacy, will help bring an end to the violence and reduce the conflict on the ground,” Psaki said.
“It is clear that it will require both parties to be committed themselves. The United States could not manufacture on our own a two-state solution. It would require both parties having that desire to move forward,” she said.
With Post wires
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