US throws its support behind Israel as progressives in Democratic Party push Joe Biden to respond

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People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City - AFP
People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City - AFP

The US appeared to throw its support behind ally Israel on Wednesday, with its most senior diplomat emphasising Israel’s right to defend itself as violence escalated.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said there was a "clear distinction" between Hamas rocket launches against Israel and Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, as Washington firmly backed the Jewish state in the escalating conflict.

"[There is] a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organisation, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets - in fact, targeting civilians - and Israel's response defending itself," said Mr Blinken.

President Joe Biden has not yet issued a statement on the conflict nor spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at least as far as has been made public.

Rockets are launched from Gaza city, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, in response to an Israeli air strike on a 14-storey building in the city, - AFP
Rockets are launched from Gaza city, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, in response to an Israeli air strike on a 14-storey building in the city, - AFP

Mr Blinken said the US would be sending an envoy to the Middle East to try and calm tensions in Israel and Gaza.

He also said Israel “has an extra burden” to try to prevent civilian deaths, noting that Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli strikes.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to self-defence during a conversation earlier Wednesday with Israel’s defense chief, Benny Gantz.

"Secretary Austin conveyed the department’s ironclad support for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, and he strongly condemned the launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorist groups that targeted Israeli civilians,” a Pentagon spokesman said, without mentioning casualties among Palestinian civilians.

The militant group Hamas unleashed a fresh barrage of deadly rocket fire towards Israel on Wednesday in retaliation for the levelling of a 14-storey building in Gaza, ruling out an imminent ceasefire.

At least 65 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, while six people have been killed in Israel.

Mr Biden, who has deprioritised the Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, has been urged by more progressive wings of the Democratic Party to play a more active role.

Mr Biden and Mr Blinken are diplomatic veterans with longstanding ties to Israel but support for the Jewish state has eroded on the Left amid alarm over Mr Netanyahu's increasingly Right-wing turn.

Bernie Sanders, Democrat Senator from Vermont who is outspoken on the issue, said: "The United States must call for an immediate cease-fire and an end to provocative and illegal settlement activity.”

“President Biden needs to step in and deescalate to stop the carnage,” tweeted Ilhan Omar. Palestinian children deserve advocates for their humanity, safety and security.”

The president is yet to even pick a nominee for the post of US ambassador to Israel.

Palestinians had hoped that the new administration would take a mediating role after the exit of Donald Trump, who had adopted a policy of unstinting support for Israel and hostility towards the Palestinians.

Mr Blinken repeated on Wednesday that the US remains committed to a two-state solution, which mirrors the official Biden administration position. “This violence takes us further away from that goal,” he said.

The US’s top diplomat later said he had spoken with Mr Netanyahu to reinforce his message. “It’s vital now to de-escalate,” Mr Blinken said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the body's Security Council held another emergency meeting on Wednesday without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the US.

During a first emergency meeting on Monday, the US also refused to back a text proposed by several member states calling on all parties to refrain from provocation.

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