Joe Biden: Israel violence must end 'sooner than later'
US President Joe Biden said that he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said he wishes for violence to end "sooner than later", following an escalation of attacks against Palestinians, including storming Al Alsqa mosque during Friday prayers and the forced expulsions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah.
"I had a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu not too long ago," Biden told reporters. "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."
The Palestinian health ministry in the Gaza Strip announced on Wednesday evening that 65 people, including 16 children, had been killed as a result of Israeli airstrikes on the besieged coastal territory.
At least 365 people have been injured in Gaza and four Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, including a man who was killed during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers near Nablus in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In Israel, six people have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket attacks, including a soldier, three women, and two children. Dozens of Israelis have also been wounded.
Israel has struck densely populated apartment buildings and tower blocks in Gaza, while Hamas rockets have managed to hit Israeli cities despite Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
Biden said US diplomacy was in high gear with national security and defense staff "in constant contact with their counterparts in the Middle East - not just with the Israelis, but also with everyone from the Egyptians and the Saudis to the Emiratis."
Biden spoke as calls grew internationally for a de-escalation of violence after intense hostilities, with Israeli forces using deadly forces that left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken by telephone with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, to urge an end to the rocket attacks.
The rockets are being fired by Hamas, but the United States does not speak with the group, considering it a terrorist organization.
The conversation between the top US diplomat and Abbas was the first high-level call between the United States and the Palestinians since Biden was sworn into office in January.
Abbas's Palestinian Authority broke off contact with the previous US administration of Donald Trump in 2017, when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"I spoke with President Abbas about the ongoing situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza," Blinken posted on Twitter. "I expressed condolences for the loss of life. I emphasized the need to end rocket attacks and deescalate tensions."
A readout of the call from the Palestinian presidency said Abbas had "stressed the importance of stopping the Israeli attacks on our Palestinian people everywhere, and putting an end to settler attacks and the aggressive Israeli measures against our people."
Earlier, Blinken announced that Hady Amr, the State Department official in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving Wednesday to the region to urge "de-escalation of violence."
The diplomat also talked with Netanyahu, again pushing for both sides to step back from fighting.
Blinken "reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence," said a State Department statement.
Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as "harrowing" but defended Israel's assault on Gaza in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants.
Timeline: This week's deadly Israeli attacks on Gaza, Jerusalem
Biden's administration earlier appealed to ally Israel to reroute a flashpoint parade in Jerusalem and prevent forced evictions of Palestinians in the holy city, which the UN constituted a possible "war crime", as the immediate trigger for the new round of violence.
Taking more nuance after the militantly pro-Israel administration of Trump, Blinken renewed US support for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
"This violence takes us further away from that goal," Blinken said.
"We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and will continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm."
In a statement, the White House said that during his call with Netanyahu, Biden "condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security and for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians."
The escalation in the conflict was sparked by Israel’s plans to forcibly expel residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which is being documented on social media, and its assaults on worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which injured hundreds of Palestinians during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.