WORLD / CROSS-BORDERS
Biden reaches out to Israeli, Palestinian leaders amid escalating conflict
Published: May 16, 2021 08:16 AM
Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike on a house are seen in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, May 15, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike on a house are seen in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, May 15, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)


 
U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday expressed concerns about the escalating conflict in separate phone calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Biden voiced concerns about violent confrontations in the West Bank and "shared his grave concern about the intercommunal violence across Israel," according to a White House readout of Biden's call with Netanyahu.

He also raised concerns about "the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection," likely referring to an airstrike carried out by the Israeli military earlier in the day that destroyed a building housing international news organizations in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Biden "reaffirmed his strong support for Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza," said the readout.

Biden also held his first phone conversation with Abbas since he took office, in which he conveyed "the U.S. commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Palestinian partnership."

The two leaders discussed current tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and expressed their shared concern about the loss of civilian life in the ongoing violence, the White House said in a separate readout. Biden emphasized to Abbas the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel.

Biden voiced his support for the two-state solution in speaking with both leaders.

The phone calls came amid escalating violence between the Israeli security forces and Palestinian militants.

Israeli fighter jets on Saturday bombed and demolished Jala Tower, a high-rise building in Gaza City housing Al-Jazeera TV and Associated Press (AP) offices as well as residential apartments.

The building "contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of Hamas," said an Israeli military spokesperson in a statement.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement that "we are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP's bureau and other news organizations in Gaza."

"We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life," he said. "A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time."

The ongoing conflict was the worst violence between Israel and the besieged Palestinian enclave since 2014.

Militant groups in Gaza continued firing barrages of rockets targeting cities in northern, central and southern Israel. A spokesperson of the Israeli army said that more than 200 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel in the last 12 hours.

It is reported that rockets fired by militant groups in Gaza have killed 10 people, including a five-year-old boy, a soldier, and two women. Meanwhile, the health ministry in Gaza said that since Monday more than 140 Palestinians have been killed, including 40 children and 20 women, and about 1,000 others injured.
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