WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, expressed his support for a ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, the White House said.
“The President expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the White House said in a statement.
The call between the two leaders follows an emergency meeting Sunday between the U.N. Security Council and Muslim nations. In the meeting, they demanded a stop to civilian bloodshed as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks in nearly a week of unrelenting Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes.
An administration official familiar with the call said the decision to express support and not explicitly demand a cease-fire was intentional. While Biden and top aides are concerned about the mounting bloodshed and loss of innocent life, the decision not to demand an immediate halt to hostilities reflects White House determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers were meeting Tuesday to discuss how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian militants. The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict, but the nations are divided over how best to help.
Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late Monday that Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza “as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes since, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.
“The United States remains greatly concerned by the violence, by the escalating violence. Hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
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As the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014 raged, the Biden administration had previously limited its public criticisms to Hamas and declined to send a top-level envoy to the region, or press Israel publicly and directly to wind down its latest military operation in the Gaza Strip, a six-mile by 25-mile territory that is home to more than 2 million people. Cease-fire mediation by Egypt and others have shown no sign of progress.
The United States, Israel’s top ally, also blocked for a third time Monday what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council expressing “grave concern” over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives. The final U.S. rejection Monday killed the Security Council statement, at least for now.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was focusing instead on “quiet, intensive diplomacy.”
Speaking in Copenhagen, where he was making an unrelated tour of Nordic countries, Blinken ticked off other, quieter U.S. outreach so far to try to de-escalate hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, and said he would be making more calls Monday.
“In all of these engagements we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said.
He said he welcomed efforts by the U.N., Egypt and other nations working for a cease-fire.
“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support,” he said. “And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire.”
The crisis in the Mideast, lead to mass protests in the U.S. over the weekend. Thousands hit the streets of downtown Chicago Sunday in support of Palestinians. Protests also emerged in Cleveland, Birmingham, Alabama, and the west coast with supporters of both sides shutting down Los Angeles traffic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.