WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said that Israel has a right to defend itself but after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he hopes violent clashes with Palestinians will end quickly.
“I had a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu not too long ago,” Biden told reporters. “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”
Biden said US diplomacy was in high gear with national security and defense staff “in constant contact with their counterparts in the Middle East — not just with the Israelis, but also with everyone from the Egyptians and the Saudis to the Emiratis.”
Biden spoke as calls grew internationally for a de-escalation of violence after intense hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians that have left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken by telephone with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, to urge an end to the rocket attacks.
The rockets are being fired by Hamas, but the US does not speak with the group, considering it a terrorist organization.
The conversation between the top US diplomat and Abbas was the first high-level call between the US and the Palestinians since Biden was sworn into office in January.
Abbas’s Palestinian Authority broke off contact with the previous US administration of Donald Trump in 2017, when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I spoke with President Abbas about the ongoing situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Blinken posted on Twitter. “I expressed condolences for the loss of life. I emphasized the need to end rocket attacks and de-escalate tensions.”
Earlier, Blinken announced that Hady Amr, the State Department official in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving to the region to urge “de-escalation of violence.”
The diplomat also talked with Netanyahu, again pushing for both sides to step back from fighting.
Blinken “reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence,” said a State Department statement.
The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, and backed Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself and its people” while also urging steps to restore calm.
Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as “harrowing” but defended Israel’s assault on Gaza in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants.
The White House said that during his call with Netanyahu, Biden “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”