Biden backs Israel-Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages in week two – fr

Biden backs Israel-Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages in week two – fr

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JERUSALEM – President Biden first expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza on Monday, as the devastating rocket and missile war showed no sign of abating after the death of dozens of Palestinian children.

But he also reaffirmed that Israel has the right to defend itself, refraining from publicly calling on Israel to change its approach despite growing international condemnation.

The statement, released after Mr. Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was the most advanced the president has gone to call for an end to the conflict. But it also reflected a continued and deep reluctance by world leaders to criticize Israel, and a failure of diplomacy to persuade the two sides to curb a growing cycle of violence.

For their part, Israeli leaders said they were in no rush to end the airstrike campaign and insisted that the military will continue until it achieves its goals of stopping. the Hamas rocket barrages and making the group “pay the price”.

“The directive is to continue hitting terrorist targets,” Netanyahu said on Monday after meeting with Israeli security officials. “We will continue to take all necessary measures to restore calm and security for all residents of Israel.”

In eight days, Hamas fired almost as many rockets – 3,350 so far – as it did in the 50 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, and killed nine civilians in Israel, including two children, and at least one soldier.

But in Gaza, Palestinian families have paid a much higher price. Since May 10, at least 212 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 61 children, according to health officials, and many are homeless. Officials in Gaza said more than 600 homes or businesses had been destroyed and more than 6,400 damaged, and United Nations officials said at least 800,000 residents did not have regular access to safe drinking water.

Although civil unrest among Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel has subsided in recent days, a general strike and demonstrations were called Tuesday afternoon to protest the Israeli air campaign in Gaza and other measures targeting them. Palestinians, organizers said.

In Washington, Mr. Biden’s language has been carefully crafted. In particular, it avoided requiring the ceasefire to be “immediate”, language Democratic senators used in their statement earlier today.

It appeared to be an effort to pressure Israel to suspend its airstrikes – assuming Hamas also ended its barrage of rockets on Israeli towns – despite Mr. Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would continue to fight. fight until it severely reduces Hamas’ military capacity, including a vast network of underground tunnels.

In the statement, the White House made it clear that it expected others in the region to play a major role, saying Mr. Biden “expressed support for a ceasefire and discussed the United States’ engagement with Egypt and other partners to this end ”.

But he set no deadline and did not appear in front of cameras to make a public request – just as he avoided making statements or asking questions on outings this weekend near his home. in Delaware.

The IDF says it is focusing on the airstrikes against the tunnel network because Hamas, which controls Gaza, uses the tunnels to move people, weapons and equipment around the densely populated coastal strip without being detected. Referring to the underground transit system as the “metro,” Israeli officials say the air campaign against the network, which has been brewing for years, marks a new phase in the long battle between Israel and militant groups.

Concern over the role of Gaza’s tunnel networks in attacks on Israelis was a justification for the military ground invasion of Gaza in 2014, which caused enormous loss of life.

Since then, Hamas has significantly expanded that network, according to Israeli intelligence officials. But they say the activists are now not focusing on the crossings that reach all the way into Israel, but rather on creating shelters for Hamas commanders and fighters in Gaza – from 20 meters underground to 70 meters from the ground. depth – and a sprawling transportation network for weapons and combatants.

An Israeli Air Force official, who briefed reporters on Monday on condition of anonymity, in accordance with military rules, said reinforced concrete tunnels run hundreds of kilometers inside Gaza. . Israel was not trying to destroy everything, he said, but to create “choke points” that would seal sections and render parts of the network inoperative.

But above the ground, entire structures in Gaza either collapse or are burnt and destroyed as airstrikes continue.

At least seven Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Monday in Israeli strikes, officials said, including a man described by Israeli officials as a senior commander of the militant Islamic Jihad group. At least two civilians were reportedly killed when a strike hit an office building, Gaza officials said.

Intense Israeli shelling on Sunday made it the deadliest day yet for Palestinians, with at least 42 people killed, including at least 10 children, after an attack on a network of tunnels caused the collapse of three buildings.

Raji Sourani, from the Gaza-based Palestinian Human Rights Center, said the main effect of the Israeli bombing has been to terrorize civilians in Gaza and to ruin their homes and businesses. He called the Israeli bombardment of the tunnels in recent days “meaningless” given the scale of the network.

“They want civilians to revolt against the resistance,” he said, referring to the provocation of a public Palestinian uprising against the Hamas regime. “And that won’t happen.”

Since the underground tunnel system is clandestine, Hamas officials are evasive when asked about its existence, let alone the severity of its impact or whether operatives were trapped inside by Israeli shelling during last week.

“It is the resistance’s right to possess all types of weapons and means to defend itself,” Abdel Latif al-Qanou, a Hamas spokesman, said on Monday. “And the tunnels are one of the means of self-defense.”

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel live under different governments and have increasingly developed distinct identities. But leaders of the three countries said they would hold a general strike on Tuesday to protest Israel’s air campaign in Gaza and other measures targeting Palestinians, organizers said.

The initiative also enjoys the support of Hamas and Fatah, the ruling Palestinian Authority party that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank.

“We want to send a clear message that we stand together to say enough about the aggression on Gaza,” said Essam Bakr, one of the organizers. “But we are also saying enough about the attacks on the Aqsa Mosque, enough about the occupation and settlement building, and enough about the unfair treatment of Palestinians. “

As the rocket barrages and airstrikes continued, Hamas was vague about its calculations and targets. The group does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state, and the group has attempted to establish itself politically as a strong advocate for the Palestinian people and Islamic holy sites, like the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In the fighting, rockets have been Hamas’ weapon of choice, raining down on Israeli towns at a much faster rate than in 2014. On Monday, the Israelis again rushed to shelters and rockets were reported to have struck in. Ashdod, Ashkelon and Sderot. No one was killed in these strikes.

But Israeli officials say militants have also tried surprise tactics, including sending drones loaded with explosives across the border. These have been thwarted so far, officials say.

Hamas also attempted to take to sea on Monday, according to the IDF, with a naval unit suspected of preparing a “submersible naval weapon” for action. The military released a video showing Israeli forces destroying the ship.

Mr. Netanyahu’s open statements about the need to destroy Hamas’s ability seemed to put Mr. Biden in a corner, which was reflected in the cautious wording of the White House statement on Monday.

In what amounts to the first crisis in the Middle East of his presidency, Biden wants to avoid the political risk of appearing ignored his calls. But he also has little influence over Israel, unless the United States is prepared to threaten to cut aid or weapons – it is not politically likely at some point for Hamas to fire rockets at. Israeli citizens.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the administration would not disclose full details of Biden’s communications with conflict leaders. “Our approach is through silent and intensive diplomacy,” she said. “This is how we think we can be the most effective.”

This is a radical departure from President Trump’s approach taken in the Middle East Plan he released a year ago. This was widely seen as ignoring many Palestinian interests, in favor of Israel’s demands.

Earlier today, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking to reporters in Copenhagen, said the Biden administration “was working intensely behind the scenes to try to end the conflict.”

He added, “We will immediately resume the work, the vital work, of realizing the vision of Israel and a peaceful, side by side Palestinian state with people from all communities capable of living in dignity.”

Mr Biden has come under increasing pressure from prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill to push for peace more forcefully, as it has become increasingly clear that the center of his party is moving away from the kind of unwavering support for prerogatives Israel, which has long been bipartisan.

After more than half of Senate Democrats, for example, called for an immediate ceasefire in a statement Sunday night, half of the Jewish Democratic House members made a similar demand. They warned Mr. Biden that “the United States cannot just hope and wait for the situation to improve.”

Reporting was provided by Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza; Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv; Adam Rasgon and Irit Pazner Garshowitz of Jerusalem; Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot; and Dan Bilefsky and Marc Santora from London.

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