WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have spoken with Israeli officials in a bid to de-escalate the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday that Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman have each spoken with their Israeli counterparts, as well as Palestinian officials, over the past 72 hours. Price declined to identify which specific Palestinian officials participated in the conversations.
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"We are deeply concerned about the escalation between Israel and those launching rockets from Gaza, and we call for restraint and for calm. Israel has the right to defend itself and to respond to rocket attacks, the Palestinian people also have the right to safety and security, just as Israelis do," Price said, adding that the U.S. is also deeply concerned about the reported loss of life in Gaza and Israel, "including the deaths of children, as well as many innocent civilians injured."
"The United States is doing what we can, knowing that our ability in certain situations is going to be in some cases limited, but we are speaking to our partners," Price said, highlighting the international community's similar levels of engagement.
Price said the Biden administration's immediate focus is on de-escalation and to "lay the steps and make incremental process, in the hopes we can be in a position to move the ball forward to a two-state solution over time."
Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed the phone call with Blinken, adding on Twitter: “I have emphasized to him that Israel is maintaining its right to defend its sovereignty... Israel won’t allow any attempts to hurt its citizens.”
Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, spoke again Tuesday, with Sullivan condemning the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza and conveying Biden's "unwavering support for Israel’s security and for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians."
Sullivan also spoke with the government of Egypt on both Gaza and Jerusalem in a bid to restore a sustainable calm, and agreed to continue to stay in touch with both the Israeli and Egyptian governments over the coming days.
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U.S. President Joe Biden has been briefed daily, including by Sullivan, on the developments in Israel and Gaza, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "Since last week he's directed his team to engage intensively with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials," Psaki said, adding that U.S. officials have "spoken candidly" with Israeli officials about how the evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah work against common interests and achieving a solution to the conflict.
"The president's support for Israel security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people is fundamental and will never waver," she added. "We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem."
U.S. delays UN Security Council statement
Meanwhile, diplomats told Reuters the United States is delaying United Nations Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source familiar with the U.S. strategy said Washington is "actively engaged in diplomacy behind the scenes with all parties to achieve a cease-fire" and was concerned that a council statement might be counterproductive at the moment.
Such statements have to be agreed on by consensus. But diplomats said the United States, a close ally of Israel, told council counterparts that the body should not issue a statement at the moment.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations said: "The United States is engaging constructively to ensure any action by the Security Council is helpful in de-escalating tensions."