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Biden praises Israel-Palestinian cease-fire, says both 'deserve to live safely and securely'

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday praised news of a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, bringing to an end nearly two weeks of violence in the region.

In a roughly three-minute speech at the White House, Biden said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed him that the country had agreed to "mutual, unconditional cease-fire to begin in two hours." Biden said that the Egyptians had informed the U.S. that Hamas had also agreed to the cease-fire.

"In my conversations with President Netanyahu, I commended him for his decision to bring the current hostilities to a close within less than 11 days. I also emphasized what I've said throughout this conflict: the United States fully support Israels’ right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists groups," Biden said.

Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu six times over the past few days and assured him Thursday of his "full support" to help "replenish" Israel's Iron Dome defense system. Biden said he spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "more than once."

Biden said the U.S. would also work with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. Biden said he would do this in partnership with the Palestinian Authority "in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal."

"I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy," Biden said. "My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end."

The statement was Biden's first public comment on the conflict since pre-recorded remarks on Sunday for a White House Eid celebration. On Wednesday, the White House appeared to be publicly ratcheting up calls for a resolution to the fighting saying in a statement that Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he “expected a significant de-escalation” in tensions “on the path to a cease-fire."

Biden had faced growing pressure over the past week from his own party to take a tougher approach to the conflict in Gaza and to explicitly call for a cease-fire in the first major foreign policy crisis of his presidency.

A group of progressive Democratic lawmakers earlier this week attempted to block the sale of $735 million of U.S. precision-guided weapons to Israel. Senate Democrats introduced a resolution Wednesday calling for the Senate to support an immediate cease-fire.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House has been engaged in diplomacy behind the scenes with administration officials making more than 80 calls with senior officials and world leaders in the Middle East since fighting broke out.

Biden spoke Thursday with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt to discuss “efforts to achieve a ceasefire that will bring an end to the current hostilities in Israel and Gaza,” the White House said. Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan and “briefed the King on intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to support the path to a ceasefire in Gaza.”

Netanyahu's Security Cabinet agreed "to accept the Egyptian initiative for a bilateral cease-fire, which will take effect at a later date," the government said in a statement.

Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen TV channel that the cease-fire would begin Friday at 2 a.m. local time (Thursday 7 p.m. ET). "We obtained guarantees from the mediators that the aggression on Gaza will stop," he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been in close touch with regional leaders, plans to travel to the region to meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and other counterparts in the coming days to discuss "recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians," said Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson.

Days of aerial attacks killed at least 230 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 Israelis, according to officials on both sides. It began with clashes that first erupted months ago in Jerusalem and boiled over into a conflict that spread far beyond the city's ancient walls — leading to a wave of communal unrest within Israel and protests across the world.

At least 65 Palestinian children were among those killed in Israel's bombardment of the tiny, blockaded Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Nearly 2,000 people were injured and tens of thousands displaced in the densely populated enclave, home to some 2 million Palestinians.