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Israel-Gaza Violence: Biden Calls for Ceasefire

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US President Joe Biden has voiced his support for a ceasefire after eight days of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

 

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US was working with Egypt and other countries on halting hostilities.

 

But the US again blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for a cessation of violence.

 

The conflict is now in its second week, with little sign of ending.

 

At least 212 people, including 61 children, have died in Gaza, and 10, including two children, in Israel.

 

Israel says most of those killed in Gaza are militants and that any civilian deaths are unintentional.

 

But Hamas, the militant group that runs the territory, disputes this.

 

According to a White House statement, Mr 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,” it added.

 

President Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end”, it said.

 

The violence has prompted increasing concern internationally.

 

World leaders and humanitarian organisations have called for measures to prevent the deaths of residents and the chaos wrought by the destruction of buildings and infrastructure.

 

The US has – for the third time – blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to issue a statement calling on Israel to stop its military offensive, stressing instead its own diplomatic efforts.

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“Our calculation at this point is that having those conversations behind the scenes … is the most constructive approach we can take,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

 

Joe Biden is a traditional pro-Israel Democrat. That’s different from Donald Trump who actually changed US policy to adopt Israel’s positions in its conflict with the Arabs. Biden has quietly begun to reverse some, although not all, of that.

 

But when it comes to air wars with Palestinian militants, he is following a familiar pattern. All US administrations strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire.

 

Analysts say in the initial phase they generally refrain from public criticism of Israeli air strikes, including at the United Nations, apparently allowing a window of time for Israel to take out militant leaders and infrastructure. However, if the conflict goes on and civilian deaths mount, sometimes they become more critical and start pressing Israel to wind down its military campaign.

 

In this case Hamas’ firepower has been more sustained and intense than before. But President Biden has now publicly expressed support for a ceasefire in his call with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and discussed with him “progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas.”

 

So perhaps this is the beginning of new phase.

 

The United Nations has also expressed concerns about the damage to infrastructure in the already impoverished Gaza Strip, home to two million people. It said that 40 schools and four hospitals had been “completely or partially destroyed” in recent days. It also warned that fuel supplies there were running out, threatening basic services.

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The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Dr Mike Ryan, said all attacks on healthcare needed to stop immediately.

 

The outbreak of violence began after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem that culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas, which controls Gaza, began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

 

Israel continued to pummel Gaza with air strikes overnight after Palestinian militants launched rockets at Israeli cities on Monday. Israeli leaders have also, again, vowed to keep up their campaign.

 

The armed wing of Hamas promised more rockets in return.

 

Sirens sounded again on Monday night in Israel, with rockets entering in the south and north, close to the Lebanese border.

 

The Israeli army said it launched artillery towards Lebanon on Monday in response to rocket fire that failed to hit the Jewish state.

 

Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it thwarted 160 “terrorist operatives” overnight and destroyed 15 kilometres of Hamas tunnels in Gaza Strip.

 

At least seven Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza on Monday by the evening.

 

Mohammad Abu Rayya, a paediatrician in Gaza, told the BBC of the devastation on the ground there.

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“We don’t have a morgue here big enough for the killed and the dead bodies,” he said.

 

“The situation in Gaza is becoming worse and worse, the system is being collapsed and stretched because also we are complaining and suffering from the (lack of) fuel,” he added.

 

“We need at least 10 years more to build what has been damaged here in Gaza,” he said.

 

The only coronavirus-testing laboratory in Gaza was knocked out on Monday. The rate of positive Covid-19 tests in Gaza has been 28% – one of the highest in the world.

 

An Israeli tech executive and father of three, Eitan Singer, told the BBC: “It is not easy – seven days in a row when we go to sleep and almost every evening, every night, we get the kids out of bed, run to shelters. We have 30 seconds to 60 seconds to find a shelter.”

 

Israel said more than 3,000 rockets had been fired into the country over the past week, calling it an unprecedented number.

 

The country’s Iron Dome defence system is said to have intercepted 90% of the rockets.

 

Israeli emergency services have reported an overall total of 311 injuries, six of them severe.

 

One person has also died of wounds sustained during riots in Israel. Clashes between Arab Israelis and Jewish citizens have left an additional 193 people injured, 10 seriously.

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