WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for a ceasefire in the Middle East, stepping up pressure on the Biden administration to intervene more forcefully to help end the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Calling Israel “our friend and ally,” Pelosi said it was in the national security interest of the United States to support security in Israel.
“Hamas has exploited an unstable situation to launch hostilities against Israel, launching more than 3,000 rockets, and as always, Israel has the right to defend itself,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“Today, after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more evident that a ceasefire is needed,” she said. “There must be a serious effort on the part of both sides to end the violence and respect the rights of the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
President Joe Biden expressed support for a ceasefire on Monday during an appeal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but did not publicly insist on a ceasefire.
Defense Secretary urges Israel against ground invasion
Behind the scenes, senior officials in the Biden administration – including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin – urged Israeli military leaders not to escalate the conflict by launching a ground invasion, according to a person familiar with the matter. This person said the White House is deeply concerned that this will lead to an extended campaign of several weeks.
The prospects of a ground invasion have now receded somewhat, this source said, and there is even hope that the conflict may end in a few days. The person spoke on condition of anonymity.
The United States is also urging Israel to make public the intelligence it relied on to strike an office building housing the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, the person said. This strike, which leveled the building, sparked widespread indignation. The PA CEO and others demanded to see the intelligence and suggested it was an effort to censor media coverage of what is happening in Gaza.
Biden addresses Rep Tlaib, others
On Tuesday, Biden briefly touched on the Middle East conflict during a speech at Ford Motor Co.’s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, Mich.
During his opening remarks, Biden told Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit who is the only Palestinian-American in Congress, that he admired her passion and concern for others and said he prayed for that his family is doing well.
“I promise that I will do everything to see that they are in the West Bank,” he said.
In a private conversation, Tlaib challenged the president to tackle the plight of the Palestinians.
“Palestinian human rights are not a bargaining chip and must be protected, not negotiated,” Tlaib told Biden, according to his office. “The United States cannot continue to give the right-wing Netanyahu government billions every year to commit crimes against Palestinians.”
Tuesday’s developments come as a growing number of Democrats in Congress are calling for an end to the conflict and urging Biden to become more involved.
On Monday, 29 Democratic and independent senators issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire.
“To prevent further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” said the group led by Senator Jon Ossoff, D- Ga.
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Violence and protests erupt in the West Bank
Calls by Pelosi and other members of Congress for a ceasefire came as the deadly tensions entered their second week.
A rocket launched from Gaza killed two Thai workers in southern Israel on Tuesday, police said, hours after Israeli airstrikes knocked down a six-story building in Palestinian territory that housed bookstores and educational centers . With the war showing no signs of abating, Palestinians in the region staged a general strike as part of a rare collective action against Israel’s policies.
Violence erupted during protests in the occupied West Bank, including in the city of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and threw stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. The troops fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, and the demonstrators picked up some and threw them away.
A protester was killed and more than 70 injured – including 16 from live fire – in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The IDF said two soldiers were shot in the leg.
The general strike was an unusual manifestation of unity between the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state. He threatened to further widen the conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the West Bank last week.
Contribute: The Associated Press
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
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