Joe Biden on Wednesday said that Israelis “had the right to defend themselves” against Hamas attacks following a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but said he hoped both sides were able to deescalate soon. The US President, speaking for the first time since clashes began on Monday, said after a phone call with the Israeli leader: “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.” Mr Biden’s comments came as Israel faced an escalating conflict on two fronts on Thursday, scrambling to quell riots between Arabs and Jews on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
The President’s top diplomat, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, earlier said there was a “clear distinction” between Hamas rocket launches against Israel and Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, appearing to back 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.
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.
Mr Blinken said on Wednesday that he spoke with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, urging an end to rocket attacks amid escalating tensions with Israel.
On Wednesday night, Israel’s army said it had received a rocket warning in the north of the country, the first time the alert has been given there since hostilities soared. Previously the approximately 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas militants since Monday had set off warnings in southern and central Israel, but not in the north, the army said. Gaza’s Health Ministry said 69 Palestinians, including 16 children and six women have been killed. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed.