President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he’d support a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after days of calling for calm but not publicly seeking an end to the conflict, a significant shift in the U.S. approach to the crisis following days of rising criticism.
“The president expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, describing Biden’s call with Netanyahu on Monday.
Hours earlier, Psaki rebuffed questions about why Biden and his top officials had avoided calling publicly for a cease-fire, saying “quiet” diplomacy was needed behind the scenes to resolve a conflict that has killed at least 222 people, mostly Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
Biden’s support for a cease-fire adds pressure on both sides to end a conflict that’s seen militants fire barrages of more than 3,100 rockets as Israel pummels Gaza with airstrikes and artillery since the latest fighting erupted about a week ago. At least three more projectiles were launched from southern Lebanon toward Israel on Monday night.
Until the latest call, the Biden’s administration’s reluctance to press for a cease-fire was read by many analysts as a way of giving Netanyahu more space to go after Hamas, which runs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union, Japan and other nations.
Israeli officials say they have killed more than a dozen top Hamas commanders since fighting started, and Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defend his country and “degrade” Hamas. But the political ground in the U.S. was shifting quickly, with a rising number of Democrats pressing for more concrete efforts to stop the violence. That effort gained momentum early Monday when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer added his voice to that consensus.
“I want to see a cease-fire reach quickly and mourn the loss of life,” Schumer said Monday.
The comments were significant because of Schumer’s role as a key defender of Israel in Congress, and they signaled that Biden may soon have to move past what his press secretary called “quiet, intense” diplomacy and make more public calls for calm.
Analysts say Biden’s initial reluctance to hold off on calling for a cease-fire helped him avoid a public fight with Netanyahu, which the Israeli leader “very well may have used for his own political benefit to look tough with his constituency at home and done little in the immediate to end the conflict,” Ilan Goldenberg, the Middle East security director at the Center for a New American Security, said in a series of tweets on Monday.
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