Secretary of State Blinken Urges Fighting to Stop, Backs Israel's Right to Defend Itself

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, earlier today
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, earlier todayCredit: Saul Loeb

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken backed Israel’s right to defend itself, and called on both sides to stop the most intense fighting between Israel and Hamas since 2014. 

Speaking at a closed-door press conference in Denmark, Blinken addressed the conflict, saying the U.S. still remains ‘greatly concerned’ by the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Blinken called on Hamas and other Gaza militant groups to end immediately end the rocket attacks, but emphasized that  Israel has extra responsibility to do everything it can to prevent civilian casualties. 

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Blinken also lamented how medical workers and journalists have been put at risk in the latest round of conflict between Israel and Gaza. 

Meanwhile at the UN Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that hostilities in Israel and Gaza were "utterly appalling" and called for an immediate end to the deadliest flare-up since the 2014 Gaza war.

Opening the 15-member council's first public meeting on the conflict, Guterres said the United Nations is "actively engaging all sides toward an immediate cease-fire" and called on them "to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed."

The UN Security Council adjourned and member states has not issued any resolution regarding the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The death toll in Gaza jumped to 198 overnight, including 58 children, amid an intensive Israeli air and artillery barrage since the fighting erupted last Monday. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, in thousands of rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stopped short of demanding a cease-fire, saying that the U.S. in all of its engagements with the relevant parties "has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a cease-fire."

She noted the U.S. remains deeply concerned about ongoing intercommunal violence, calling for parties to avoid acts such as incitement and violence — including evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem. She also called on all parties to "uphold and respect the historic status quo at the holy sites."

A woman looks inside a damaged car at a site where a rocket fired from Gaza landed, as Israeli-Palestinian cross-border violence continues, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, today.Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

The UN Security Council met privately twice last week over the worsening violence, but has so far been unable to agree on a public statement because the United States – a strong ally of Israel – did not believe it would be helpful, diplomats said.

"The United Nations is working tirelessly with all sides to restore calm," UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland told the council. "The international community has a crucial role to play. It must take action now to enable the parties to step back from the brink."

"Each time Israel hears a foreign leader speak of its right to defend itself it is further emboldened to continue murdering entire families in their sleep," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told the Security Council.

Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Israel's response to indiscriminate attacks by Hamas strictly adhered to international law and that the country was taking "unparalleled steps to prevent civilian casualties."

"Israel uses its missiles to protect its children. Hamas uses children to protect its missiles," Erdan said.

"We call upon the U.S. to shoulder its responsibilities, take a just position, and together with most of the international community support the Security Council in easing the situation," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired Sunday's meeting as China is council president for May.

Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far offered no sign of progress. The United States sent an envoy to the region and President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.

"Concessions must be made as a price to be paid for peace so as to spare people from paying the heavy price of war," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the Security Council.

Beyond the current flare up in the conflict, the 22-member Cairo-based Arab League called on Biden's administration "to engage in a more active and influential and deeper way in the Middle East peace process," Arab League UN envoy Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz told the Security Council.

He said they wanted to see "an engagement that would dispel delusions created by the past U.S. administration that Israel would get everything while Palestinians would get nothing," referring to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken later spoke with Shoukry as part of continued American efforts to help deescalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blinken and Shoukry discussed the violence in Israel, West Bank, and Gaza, according to a State Department readout.

"The Secretary reiterated his call on all parties to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence, which has claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children," the statement noted, highlighting the strong strategic partnership between the two countries and Blinken thanking Egypt for its ongoing efforts to support and end to the violence.

According to the State Department, Blinken also spoke with Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on the ongoing violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Blinken told the Saudi foreign minister that he lamented the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives and urged engagement to prevent a deepening of the crisis. He also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security, and prosperity.

Blinken discussed with his Qatari counterpart efforts to restore calm "in light of the tragic loss of civilian life," highlighting the importance of the strong partnership with Qatar and thanking him for Qatar's role in advancing peace and security in the Middle East.

Blinken and Le Drian discussed their shared concern about the ongoing violence, as well as their respective engagement with partners in the region to bring about calm.

In a tweet publishing the readout of his calls, Blinken said "the violence must end immediately" — the strongest tone yet adopted by the Americans concerning the ongoing violence.

'Systematic crimes'

Over the weekend, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an extra-parliamentary umbrella organization that represents Arab citizens of Israel at the national level, has announced a general strike which will take place on Tuesday, the first working day after the Shavuot holiday, following its call on the UN and other foreign delegates in Israel to bring about an end the violence against Arab Israelis.

Moreover, the OIC called on Sunday for an immediate halt to what it described as Israel's barbaric attacks on Gaza and blamed "systematic crimes" against the Palestinians for hostilities now in their seventh day.

The OIC statement came after a virtual meeting in which Saudi Arabia condemned the violation of the sanctity of Muslim holy sites and evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

The 57-member body accused the United Nations Security Council of inertia. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei issued a separate statement on Sunday, tweeted by Malaysia's premier, calling for an emergency UN General Assembly meeting.

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