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Israel-Gaza: Biden supports ceasefire amid mounting pressure from top Democrats

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded as Israel's bombing of besieged Gaza Strip enters second week
Biden's approach, in which he has consistently supported Israel's right to defend itself while failing to condemn Israeli attacks in Gaza, has been criticised by progressive Democrats.
Biden's approach, in which he has consistently supported Israel's right to defend itself while failing to condemn Israeli attacks in Gaza, has been criticised by progressive Democrats (AFP)
By in
Washington

US President Joe Biden on Monday expressed support for a ceasefire to end the war on Gaza, amid increasing pressure from rights advocates and members of his own Democratic Party.

"The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," the White House said in a statement following Biden's call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The statement came after Washington was reported to have repeatedly blocked a UN Security Council joint statement calling for a ceasefire.

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During his call with Netanyahu on Monday - the third since the crisis began - Biden reiterated support for what he calls "Israel's right to defend itself".

"He [Biden] encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians," the White House said. "The two leaders discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza."

Citing an unidentified Israeli official, Axios reported that the US conveyed to Israel that it was nearing the end of its ability to resist ceasefire calls.

"The Biden administration hadn't given Israel a deadline for reaching a ceasefire but had been stressing on Monday that it was reaching the end of its ability to hold back international pressure on Israel over the Gaza operation," Axios reporter Barak Ravid wrote.

Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had suggested that Washington would not call for a ceasefire unilaterally.

"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 ceasefire," Blinken said.

Biden at odds with Democrats

Israel has historically enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans in the US.

However, Biden's approach, in which he consistently supported Israel's right to defend itself while failing to condemn Israeli attacks in Gaza, including the bombing of a 12-storey building housing media offices, has been criticised by members of his own party.

On Sunday, dozens of senators from Biden's Democratic Party, including the number two Senate Democrat in leadership, Dick Durbin, issued their own call for a ceasefire.

"To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire," a joint statement by 28 senators said.

Senator Bernie Sanders, one of Biden's challengers in last year's Democratic presidential nomination, has called the devastation "unconscionable" and said on Sunday that the US should take a "hard look" at the $3.8bn in military aid it provides each year to Israel.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the highest-profile progressive Democrats, hinted that Israel was an "apartheid" state.

"The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to self-defence," Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor on Thursday.

"But do Palestinians have a right to survive? Do we believe that? And if so, we have a responsibility to that."

Even Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a reliably pro-Israel voice, said on Saturday that he was "deeply troubled" by Israeli strikes on Gaza that killed civilians and destroyed media offices, calling for "a full accounting."

Erdogan: Biden has 'bloody hands'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused Biden of having "bloody hands" over Washington's uncritical support for Israel's bombing campaign.

"You are writing history with your bloody hands," Erdogan said in televised remarks directed at Biden. "You forced us to say this. We cannot step back."

Erdogan had spent the past few months trying to mend frayed relations with Washington and had reached out to other Western allies after a year of bitter disputes.

But Monday's remarks represented one of the Turkish president's strongest attacks on Biden since his arrival in the White House in January.

"Today we saw Biden's signature on weapons sales to Israel," Erdogan said, referring to US media reports that the Biden administration approved a $735m sale of weapons to Israel earlier this month.

"Palestinian territories are awash with persecution, suffering and blood, like many other territories that lost the peace with the end of the Ottomans. And you are supporting that," Erdogan said.

Israeli air strikes hit close to the Reuters bureau in Gaza on Monday, just days after a building housing the bureaus of Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera and the Associated Press were destroyed.

The strike caused large amounts of destruction in the area, according to MEE's correspondent, forcing the closure of the enclave's only coronavirus testing laboratory.

Death toll continues to rise

More than a week of heavy Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women.

Ten people have been killed in Israel, according to medical officials, and more than 300 wounded.

The strikes have also caused power cuts and obliterated a number of buildings and roads, and impeded access to vital locations for ambulances and emergency services. 

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According to Palestine's Ministry of Information, Israeli air strikes have damaged more than 1,000 residential units, as well as 36 schools and primary health care clinics. 

The ministry estimates that $18m worth of damage has been done to streets and infrastructure in the besieged enclave. 

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has raised concerns over Israel's devastating air operation, which it said has been "incredibly heavy and stronger than previous bombing campaigns".  

"Emergency health workers are taking incredible but necessary risks to move around ... our teams were confronted with serious injuries caused by the Israeli police to men, women and children," Hellen Ottens-Patterson, the head of MSF said.

A number of rights organisations have also condemned the targeting of humanitarian workers, civilians and journalists. 

Israel's attacks on Gaza have further exacerbated the strain on health facilities, particularly as the region grapples to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Gaza's government press office warned on Monday that Israeli forces intend to bombard the Al-Buraq and Al-Aqsa schools, west of Gaza. The two schools have been used as bomb shelters over the past week.

The UN said on Sunday that Israeli bombing had left more than 38,000 internally displaced persons in Gaza seeking refuge in 48 UNRWA schools across the strip, while 2,500 people had been made homeless.

US: No evidence for Hamas presence in bombed building

Blinken also said on Monday that he had not seen any Israeli evidence that Hamas was operating in the media building that housed several international media outlets.

"Shortly after the strike, we did request additional details regarding the justification for it," Blinken said. 

"I have not seen any information provided… [and] will leave it to others to characterise if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information."

Palestinians have called a general strike in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Palestinian towns in Israel to protest Israeli human rights violations.

The strike, planned for Tuesday, will mean the closure of all commercial activities in opposition to the recent escalation of violence in Gaza and planned expulsion of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, MEE correspondent Shatha Hammad reported. 

Student unions in Palestine have also joined calls for a general strike and vowed not to attend their classes in solidarity. 

This protest will be the first of its kind since the famous 1936 general strike in Palestine against repressive policies imposed by the British Mandate.