President Biden on Thursday praised the recently announced ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and offered his condolences to families who lost loved ones, but didn’t offer any specifics as to how the US might stop another bloody conflict from erupting involving its major ally.
“These hostility have result in the tragic death of so many civilians, including children,” Mr Biden said. “I send my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones, and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded.”
At least 244 people were killed during the 11-day conflict, most of them Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women. Twelve Israelis, including two children and one soldier, were also among the dead.
“I believe that Palestine and Israelis equally deserve to life safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” the president said, though he didn’t offer details as to what that would look like in practice.
The ceasefire amounts to a “genuine opportunity to make progress,” the president said, pledging to continue “quiet and relentless diplomacy” toward that end.
He also vowed to replenish Israel’s high-tech Iron Dome missile defence system and re-iterated his support Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
“The US fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel,” the president says.
Palestinians and large portions of the international community have condemned Israel itself for provoking the most recent round of conflict, the most intense in decades, due to previous restrictions at key sites in Jerusalem, riot police attacking Muslims at the Al-Aqsa mosque, and attempts to forcibly evict Palestinians from occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem, which the UN said could amount to war crimes.
Earlier in the day, Israel and Hamas announced a mutual ceasefire without conditions set to begin early on Friday morning.
Israeli officials described the agreement, brokered in part by Egyptian and US diplomats, as “quiet in exchange for quiet” and pending conditions on the ground, while Hamas called the agreement “mutual and simultaneous.”
Also on Thursday, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders introduced a resolution that would block the sale of $735m in arms to Israel.
“I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Mr Sanders said in a statement on Thursday. “We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”
Mr Biden did not comment on the resolution, though some expect him to veto it, which would likely render its final passage impossible, since a two-thirds majority would be needed to override his decision.
The bombardment of the Gaza Strip, already deeply impoverished and largely under a military blockade before fighting broke out, leveled homes, apartment towers, a news media office building, as well as hospitals, schools, and water treatment infrastructure.
UN officials toldThe Independent it will “take years” to rebuild Gaza as the UN Palestinian refugee agency launched a funding appeal.
Hamas rockets, meanwhile, struck civilian areas and vital power lines, and Israel has criticized Hamas for “co-locating” with civilians. (Hamas is the political entity in control of the Gaza strip and administers services like utilities in addition to having an armed wing that was engaged in hostilities with Israel).
US military support plays a key role in Israel’s military might, with America sending the country nearly $4 billion in aid each year, the largest cumulative recipient of US aid of any country in the world.
The Biden administration blocked multiple attempts at the UN Security Council to call for a ceasefire, draft versions of which strongly condemned the Israeli Defense Forces’ killing of civilians in Gaza and Israeli police’s violent tactics towards Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Before his remarks on Thursday, Mr Biden had called for a “significant de-escalation,” and had dispatched top diplomats to the region, though he ultimately said he supported Israel’s participation in the conflict.
“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,” Mr. Biden said at the time.