By Spy Uganda Correspondent
USA: Facing increasing pressure from human rights advocates and members of his own Democratic Party over Israel’s continued bombardment on Gaza, United States President Joe Biden has conveyed his support for a ceasefire.
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 the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, the US president 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 Palestinians.
“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 call between the leaders in three days.
“He 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.” adds the statement.
Israel carried out a fresh wave of airstrikes in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, leveling a building in Gaza City. The Israeli military said it had fired 100 bombs and missiles against 65 targets.
The military said it also shot down a drone “approaching the Israeli border” in the northeast, far from the Gaza fighting. It did not say where the drone originated, and the army could not immediately be reached for comment. It is possible the drone came from Syria.
A strike launched from Gaza on Tuesday killed two Thai workers inside a packaging plant in southern Israel, and wounded another seven people, police said.
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. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan said the US was focusing instead on “quiet, intensive diplomacy”.
The US 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.
“Ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire,” Blinken said.
A US administration official familiar with Monday’s call said the decision to not explicitly demand a ceasefire was intentional. Biden and top aides are concerned about the mounting bloodshed and loss of innocent life, but the statement’s wording reflects White House determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the unnamed official said.
Biden has been facing increasing pressure from his own party to take a tougher line towards Israel and press for an immediate ceasefire. There was outrage from some Democrats that the administration had approved the sale to Israel of $735m worth of precision bombs.
On Monday night, the top US military officer, Army Gen Mark Milley, warned that the violence could spread.
“My assessment is that you risk broader destabilization and you risk a whole series of negative consequences if the fighting continues,” Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters before landing in Brussels on Monday for talks with Nato allies. “It’s in no one’s interest to continue fighting.”
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, which has long acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, said on Monday a ceasefire could be within reach.