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13 May, 2021 05:07

‘Israel has a right to defend itself,’ Biden tells Netanyahu, as Blinken calls Palestinian leader Abbas to condemn rocket attacks

‘Israel has a right to defend itself,’ Biden tells Netanyahu, as Blinken calls Palestinian leader Abbas to condemn rocket attacks

US President Joe Biden voiced staunch support for Tel Aviv in a call with the Israeli PM, while Secretary of State Tony Blinken scolded a Palestinian leader for Hamas rocket fire as IDF warplanes hammer Gaza.

Biden reiterated Washington’s “unwavering” commitment to Israel’s security and its “legitimate right to defend itself” during a Wednesday phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, amid a new bout of fighting in the blockaded Palestinian enclave. 

The president “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” also briefly mentioning the importance of “protecting civilians,” according to a White House readout of the call. 

[Biden] shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace.

Netanyahu also acknowledged the conversation in a tweet, cheering Biden’s “backing of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

The call came after three consecutive days of violence in Gaza, which have seen a barrage of Hamas rocket fire into Israeli cities and hundreds of IDF strikes on Palestinian territory. Though at least 67 Palestinians have perished in bombing raids on crowded residential areas, including 16 children, Biden made little effort to urge restraint by Israeli forces during the call. 

Israeli officials, meanwhile, say seven citizens have died in rocket blasts, among them one child.

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Later on Wednesday, Secretary of State Blinken held a call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration oversees the occupied West Bank. During the sit-down, the American diplomat condemned the rocket attacks and “emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions,” also expressing condolences for those killed in the violence. 

Like Biden, Blinken declined to make any mention of deadly Israeli airstrikes – which have targeted several high-rise structures across Gaza, including apartment blocs and offices housing media organizations – instead placing all focus on Palestinian rockets.

The renewed violence erupted after days of heated protests over the planned eviction of Palestinian residents in occupied East Jerusalem. The demonstrations were met with harsh police crackdowns – including near Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam – with hundreds injured in the resulting clashes. Anger over the evictions, as well as the police response to the protests, prompted rocket fire from Gaza on Monday night, kicking off a deadly cycle of escalation between the two sides.

READ MORE: IDF will fight until there’s ‘complete silence’ before any truce is possible, says Israeli defense minister

Democrats in the US Congress have called on the Biden administration to address the looming evictions, with 25 lawmakers signing a letter this week expressing “deep concern about Israel's imminent plan to forcibly displace nearly 2,000 Palestinians” in two Jerusalem neighborhoods. 

Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah are in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Addressed to Blinken, the letter goes on to note that some 5,000 homes in East Jerusalem were demolished by Israeli authorities between 1967 and 2017 – citing a report by the Land Research Center – while also calling attention to Tel Aviv’s ongoing military occupation of the greater West Bank, of which East Jerusalem is a part.

Biden himself has also come under pressure from House Democrats over his pronouncements on the fighting in Gaza, with New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasting an earlier statement backing Israel’s right to self-defense. 

“Blanket statements like these w/ little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence – namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al-Aqsa – dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong,” she said.

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