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Under pressure, Biden works for ceasefire in Israel-Gaza violence

Under pressure, Biden works for ceasefire in Israel-Gaza violence

Israeli soldiers gather at a staging ground near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, May 16, 2021. (Photo: AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and aides worked behind the scenes on Monday (May 17) pressing for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid what one source said was frustration over Israel's bombing of a Gaza building that housed some news organisations.

Biden is facing growing pressure from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party to play a more vocal role, but United States officials say he and his team have opted for a quieter effort, talking with Israeli officials and US allies in the Arab world.

"Our calculation at this point is that having those conversations behind the scenes ... is the most constructive approach we can take," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

COMMENTARY: The end of Israel's illusion and the rise of Hamas

Biden spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their third conversation since the violence erupted.

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".

"The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," a White House statement said.

Supporters of the Biden administration demanded quicker action.

"We're really frustrated that the administration is not moving with more urgency," said Logan Bayroff, spokesman for J Street, a liberal pro-Israel lobbying group.

READ: US blocks new draft UN statement on Middle East violence

Twenty-eight senators - more than half of the Democratic caucus - issued a statement on Sunday calling for an immediate ceasefire "to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict".

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday he also wanted to see a ceasefire reached quickly.

Relatives react to the death of a man who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, May 17, 2021. (Photo: AP/Khalil Hamra)

The Biden administration has increasingly relied on Egypt because of its influence with Hamas, whose rocket barrages into Israeli cities have prompted a fierce response from Israel and led to the biggest outbreak in hostilities since 2014.

The administration would like to get on a glide path to de-escalation in coming days, leading to what a source familiar with the situation called a humanitarian pause in the violence to let relief assistance be delivered to Gaza and build a sustainable calm.

The United States was believed to be preparing significant initiatives on Gaza humanitarian reconstruction, the source said.

"IMPERATIVE TO RESTORE CALM"

Biden has strongly defended Israel's right to defend itself because of the repeated rocket barrages from Hamas, which the US views as a terrorist organisation.

But the administration did not support Israel's destruction of a Gaza high-rise that housed the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices.

The Biden administration viewed the strike on the building as a major strategic mistake, particularly because it turned some public opinion against Israel in the US, the source said.

READ: Blinken urges Israel, Palestinians to 'protect civilians' and children

The Gaza building attack has prompted some Democratic lawmakers to call foul.

"The increasing loss of civilian lives of Palestinians and Israelis is unconscionable and unacceptable," said Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro.

"I'm particularly disturbed by the disproportionate bombing of the Gaza Strip, including the deaths of at least 92 women and children and the targeting of the Associated Press building."

Smoke rises moments after an Israeli airstrike struck an 11-story building housing the Associated Press and other media outlets, in Gaza City, May 14, 2021. (Photo: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that he had spoken to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan about the urgent need to halt the violence in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.

"The loss of life from this crisis is deeply saddening, and it is imperative to restore calm and end this conflict," he said.

The Biden administration has privately blamed the administration of Republican former President Donald Trump for breaking off communications with the Palestinian Authority in its zeal for a pro-Israel policy, believing that has contributed to instability.

While Trump helped negotiate four normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries, he cut assistance to the Palestinians.

Source: Reuters/dv
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