President Joe Biden says he expects violence in Israel to end “sooner rather than later,” and that the nation has a right to defend itself, after a call on Wednesday with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner rather than later,” the president told reporters on Wednesday after his conversation with the Israeli PM.
“He 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,” an official readout of the call between the leaders said. “He also conveyed the United States’ encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm.”
The Biden administration is reportedly working behind the scenes with Egypt to push for de-escalation.
At least 72 people have died in fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, many of them Palestinian civilians, including at least 16 children and 5 women.
The US State Department has urged “calm” and “de-escalation on all sides.”
Serious fighting between Israel and militants in Gaza began on Monday, but tensions had been building for days.
The renewed violence, the first time the Islamist militant group Hamas has fired rockets at Jerusalem in seven years, has a number of different causes.
One is the ongoing effort to evict Palestinians from the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, a contested part of the city Israel annexed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which is home to the descendants of Palestinian refugees who were expelled from the area during 1948 “Nakba” (catastrophe), the Palestinian name for the civil war which displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous Arab residents and established the modern state of Israel.
Most of the international community has not recognised Israel’s claim over East Jerusalem as legitimate. The Israeli government has dismissed the conflict over the neighbourhood as a private “real estate dispute,” and the Israeli Supreme Court has postponed a legal decision that could decide the fate of its residents.
Protests against the evictions have continued for days and inspired a wider-than-normal swathe of Palestinians across Israel and Palestine to join in, and clashes between Palestinians, far-right-wing settlement activists, and Israeli police have been common.
Israeli security barricades around Damascus Gate, a popular gathering site, especially during the month of Ramadan, further escalated the situation, and police have used water cannon to disperse angry crowds at the site.
Against this backdrop, Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at a crowd of Palestinians during Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, during the sacred month of Ramadan.
At least 163 Palestinians and six Israeli police officers were injured.
Israeli police officials said they used these tactics to “restore order” due to the “rioting of thousands of worshippers.”
On Monday, Israeli security forces again descended on the mosque compound, which is also sacred to Jews and Christians, firing stun grenades and tear inside the mosque itself. More than 330 Palestinians were injured, as were at least 21 police officers.
Police said they were responding to Palestinians throwing stones at them.
This prompted Hamas to begin firing rockets into Israel, which Israeli prime minister Netanyahu said “crossed a red line” and vowed “Israel will respond with great force.”
That same day, a march by far-right Israelis was planned for Jerusalem Day, an event celebrating the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem, with a route through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City section of Jerusalem. It was rerouted at the last minute, though a crowd of Jewish activists nonetheless rallied around the Western Wall and sang and chanted a song about the names of Palestinians getting “erased” as a fire burned in the distance at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Fighting has expanded beyond just exchanging rocket fire and Israeli air strikes, with the prime minister declaring a state of emergency in the town of Lod, southeast of Tel Aviv, following what police called “wide-scale riots” by supporters of the Palestinians.