Joe Biden has issued a statement for the first time expressing support for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s militant rulers Hamas, after a phone conversation with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, the US president, Biden stopped short of calling for an immediate halt to the eight days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket barrages that have killed more than 200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinian.
“The president reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks,” the White House statement said after the phone call, the second known one between the leaders in three days.
Biden 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 president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end.
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Israeli reports quoting military officials suggested that Israeli forces wanted to continue their military operations for another day or two before withdrawing. Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late on Monday that Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza “as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
Meanwhile, the US blocked – for the third time in a week – the adoption of a joint UN security council statement calling for a halt to Israeli-Palestinian violence. White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US was focusing instead on “quiet, intensive diplomacy”.
Secretary of state Antony Blinken, speaking in Denmark on Monday, said the US was ready to help if Israel and Hamas signaled interest in ending hostilities – but that the US wasn’t demanding that they do so.