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Palestinian Israeli conflict

US steps up diplomacy as rockets, air strikes rain over cities in Palestine, Israel

Biden and Blinken held separate calls with the Israeli premier after dispatching a US envoy to the region

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The United States stepped up its diplomatic efforts Wednesday as the Israeli-Palestinian fighting appeared to show no signs of easing, and the number of civilian deaths continued to climb.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken dispatched Hady Amr, his top diplomat in charge of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

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Blinken also held a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he condemned the rocket attacks on Israel while also expressing Washington’s support for both Palestinians and Israelis to live in safety and security. President Joe Biden later spoke with the Israeli premier, who is facing corruption charges in his home country and serving as a caretaker prime minister currently.

"My expectation and hope is this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself," Biden told reporters after his call with Netanyahu.

A statement from the White House said that Biden "condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv."

In the latest developments out of Gaza, Israeli jets continued their air campaign on targets they say are housing officials and fighters from the Hamas militant group.

A Palestinian woman carrying her son evacuates after their tower building was hit by Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021. (Reuters)
A Palestinian woman carrying her son evacuates after their tower building was hit by Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021. (Reuters)

Hamas, meanwhile, said it fired 130 rockets at Israel as a response to the air strikes from Tel Aviv.

In another move from Washington, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz. Austin, like Blinken, said the US supported Israel’s right to defend its people.

Under the Biden administration, the Middle East was initially considered a secondary priority due to the pressing threats from China and Russia.

But the recent fighting - the worst since 2014 - between Hamas and Israel has pushed Biden to intervene.

On the one hand, the Biden administration has made human rights advocacy a pillar of its foreign policy.

It has, so far, blocked a statement from being released by the UN Security Council. A draft statement seen by Al Arabiya would have seen the Security Council issue harsh criticism against Israel while also condemning the rocket attacks from Gaza.

The new US approach has led to a shift of America’s tone towards Palestine under the current administration. A peace plan unveiled under the Trump administration was seen as lopsided and favored Israel. Trump also declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On the other hand, Biden has a key US ally in Israel and appears to be treading a fine line by supporting Tel Aviv’s right to defend itself while also reiterating support for a two-state solution.

Amr, the US diplomat heading to the region, will only look to de-escalate the ongoing conflict. His role is not meant to discuss a two-state solution, according to US officials.

The White House said Monday that an ambassador to Israel would be appointed in the coming weeks.

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