President Joe Biden said he hoped for a swift end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday soon after he spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel says militants have fired more than 1,000 rockets into its territory while the death toll on both sides has increased to at least 70.
The United Nations has warned that the region is lurching to ‘all-out war’, but Biden struck an optimistic note when he was asked about the conflict after delivering remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘My expectation, hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later,’ he said.
‘But Israel has a right to defend itself when you have 1000s of rockets flying into your territory.
Minutes later the White House published a summary of the conversation.
‘He condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,’ it said.
‘He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.’
His words echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken who also said Israel had a right to protect itself as he dispatched an envoy to the country in an effort to prevent hostilities spiraling further.
In comments welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken said: ‘We fully support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself. We’ve condemned and I condemn again the rocket attacks in the strongest possible terms.’
He urged both sides to deescalate and that he was sending Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to the region immediately to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
‘We’re deeply concerned about what we’re seeing there,’ he said. ‘Images that came out overnight are harrowing and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy.’
Fighting erupted on Monday night after weeks of rising tension triggered clashes at a holy site revered by Muslims and Jews.
Since then the United Nations has warned of a ‘full-scale war’ in the region as Hamas fires rockets from bases in Gaza while Netanyau has threatened to ‘inflict blows’ that the militant group ‘has not dreamed of.’
Israeli strikes killed several of the Islamist group’s top commanders, and destroyed another multi-story building in Gaza City on Wednesday.
Israeli fighter jets dropped two bombs on the 14-storey Al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel, and is the third tall structure in Gaza City levelled since the bombing campaign began Monday.
The Israeli prime minister issued the threat as he visited a hospital in the city of Holon today, paying tribute to those wounded in fighting between the two sides that is now at its worst point since the 2014 Gaza War.
Referencing the deaths of Hamas commanders earlier in the day – including Brigadier General Bassem Issa and Jamal Zabda, head of the group’s rocket unit – Netanyahu vowed: ‘This is only the beginning.’
His comments came despite international calls for urgent deescalation and as Israel braces for more missile strikes overnight to avenge the deaths of its commanders.
In just two days of fighting, Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel, while the Jewish state has carried out counter-strikes against what it called military targets.
But the civilian death toll is quickly mounting, with at least with at least 65 Palestinians including 14 children and three women killed as of Wednesday evening, alongside seven Israelis including one child and one soldier.
Senior politicians around the world have demanded both sides step back from the brink.
America’s President Biden ‘will nominate a qualified, experienced ambassador to Israel over the coming weeks,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. ‘Our objective here is deescalation as we look to protecting people in the region.’
Biden’s British counterpart Boris Johnson condemned the spiraling conflict, saying he was ‘urging Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the brink and for both sides to show restraint’ on Wednesday morning.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
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