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Biden phones Palestinian, Israeli leaders as violence soars

US, Palestinian leaders express 'concern that innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives'

Michael Hernandez   | 15.05.2021
Biden phones Palestinian, Israeli leaders as violence soars

WASHINGTON

US President Joe Biden spoke by telephone with his Palestinian and Israeli counterparts on Saturday as Tel Aviv continued to escalate its military offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Biden "updated President Abbas on U.S. diplomatic engagement on the ongoing conflict and stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel," the White House said in a readout of the call, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"They expressed their shared concern that innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives amidst the ongoing violence," the statement said.

"The President expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom, and economic opportunity that they deserve. In that regard, he highlighted the recent U.S. decision to resume assistance to the Palestinian people, including economic and humanitarian assistance," it added.

Of Biden's call with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said the US president "reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza."

"The President noted that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children. He raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection," the White House said in a separate statement.

"The President shared his grave concern about the intercommunal violence across Israel. He welcomed the statements by the Prime Minister and other leaders opposing such hateful acts and encouraged continued steps to hold violent extremists accountable and to establish calm," it added.

The calls come after Israeli warplanes leveled a multi-story building housing the offices of several media outlets, including The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, amid an unrelenting bombing campaign that has killed at least 139 people, including 39 children and 22 women, and injured 950 more people since May 10.

At least 10 Palestinian civilians, including eight children, were killed early Saturday when Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed a residential house in the Al-Shati refugee camp in western Gaza City.

About 10,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes during the bloodshed, according to UN estimates.

Eight people in Israel have been killed in fire emanating from Gaza, including a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile.

Tensions began to foment earlier in May as an Israeli court approved the expulsions of dozens of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. A hearing on the case has since been delayed by Israel's Supreme Court.

But tensions have been exacerbated by repeated raids on Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest in Islam, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza beginning on Monday after Palestinian groups launched rockets into Israel in retaliation for the planned removals in East Jerusalem and crackdown in Al-Aqsa. Israel's offensive has since expanded as unrest has enveloped the whole of Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

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