The Latest: Biden expresses ‘support’ for Gaza cease-fire

May 17, 2021 GMT
President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden has expressed “support” for a cease-fire during a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A statement says the leaders spoke Monday, which was the eighth day of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Biden’s move signals U.S. concern for an end to Israel’s part of hostilities with Hamas, although it falls short of joining growing Democratic Party demands for an immediate cease-fire.

The White House says the president reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks.


JERSUALEM — Israel’s military says it identified six rockets launched from Lebanon that apparently fell inside Lebanese territory.

The army said Monday that Israeli artillery returned fire into southern Lebanon. Air raid sirens sounded in a kibbutz near the border, and residents were instructed to prepare bomb shelters.

The incident took place near the site of protests staged along the Lebanese border Friday. In one incident, protesters breached the border fence and entered Israeli territory. Israeli troops fatally shot man who was later identified by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah as one of its fighters.


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will “continue to strike terror targets” in the Gaza Strip after a week of fighting with Palestinian militants.

In an address after meeting with top defense officials, Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will “continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”

The fighting broke out May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.

The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar has condemned the Israeli bombing of the Qatari Red Crescent building in the Gaza Strip, which it said resulted in deaths and injuries.

Qatar said Monday the operation also damaged parts of The Hamad Bin Khalifa Hospital for Prosthetics and Rehabilitation, as did the previous aerial bombing Saturday of the tower that housed the offices of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel. The mixed-use office and residential high-rise was also home to The Associated Press’ offices in Gaza.

Qatar said the targeting of humanitarian and media institutions is a flagrant violation of international law. The Foreign Ministry said “Qatar affirms it will spare no effort in supporting the just Palestinian cause and its brothers in Palestine.”

The energy-rich Gulf country has been providing $20 million to Gaza monthly since 2018.


AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s interior minister says Israel has handed over two Jordanian citizens who infiltrated its border over the past days.

Mazen Farayah didn’t elaborate while speaking to parliament Monday.

The foreign ministry said authorities are looking into reports that other Jordanian citizens have crossed into Israel in Monday without confirming whether it indeed happened.

Jordan has been witnessing protests against Israel over fighting that broke out last week between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group.

On Monday, all parliament members in Jordan called on the government to evict Israel’s ambassador to Jordan and recall Jordan’s ambassador to Israel. The legislators also called for abolishing the peace accord that Jordan and Israel signed in 1994.

The calls by the legislators aren’t binding.


UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says over 38,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes and more than 2,500 people have been made homeless because their houses were destroyed.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday those displaced have sought protection in 48 schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Dujarric said 41 education facilities have been damaged according to U.N. staff on the ground.

“The power supply across Gaza has been reduced to six to eight hours per day, on average, with a number of feeder lines not functioning,” he said. “That, in turn, disrupts the provision of health care and other basic services, including water, hygiene and sanitation.”

He said the World Food Program has started providing emergency assistance for more than 51,000 people in north Gaza.


CAIRO — An Egyptian health official says three Palestinian wounded arrived Monday at a hospital in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for treatment.

The official says ambulances have transferred the three, including a child, from the Raffah crossing point to the al-Arish public hospital.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief media.

They were the first wounded to cross into Egypt from Gaza since the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the territory started May 10 following weeks of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in Jerusalem.

Egypt, which is mediating a cease-fire, has also sent trucks carrying humanitarian aid and medical supplies to Gaza.

— By Samy Magdy


PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says he will have talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days about the airstrike that destroyed a Gaza building that housed The Associated Press and other media outlets.

Macron said at a news conference in Paris that “the safety of journalists ... and their protection in times of conflict is a crucial responsibility.”

He said France has requested that Israel clarify the circumstances and objectives of the airstrike.

Macron called for a cease-fire “as soon as possible,” and said France is supporting Egypt’s mediation in the conflict as key to avoiding more violence.

He said he will discuss with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, whom he already met on Monday in Paris, and Jordanian King Abdullah II in the coming days to make concrete proposals.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed U.S President Joe Biden, accusing him of “writing history with his bloody hands” following reports of a multi-million dollar weapons sale to Israel by his administration.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan also said Jerusalem should be administered by an international commission made up of Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives. Erdogan, who has been conducting telephone diplomacy to try and end the violence, said he had raised the issue during a call with Pope Francis.

“In today’s circumstances, the administration of Jerusalem by a commission made up of representatives of the three religions will be the most accurate and consistent way,” he said.

Erdogan also took aim at Austria for flying the Israeli flag from a government building, suggesting that Vienna was trying to make Muslims “pay the price of their own genocide against the Jews.”

“Now, unfortunately, you (Biden) are writing history with your bloody hands with this event (in which) Gaza is being attacked with seriously disproportionate force causing the martyrdom of thousands of people,” Erdogan said. “You have forced us to say this.”

Erdogan was referring to reports that the Biden administration had approved a $735 million weapons sale to Israel.


UNITED NATIONS — The United States has again blocked a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling for an end to “the crisis related to Gaza” and the protection of civilians, especially children.

Council diplomats said there was a 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) deadline Monday for countries to comment on the statement and Washignton objected to it.

At a high-level emergency council meeting on Sunday, there were near unanimous calls for an end to the week-long conflict.

The proposed council press statement by China, Norway and Tunisia, obtained by The Associated Press, didn’t name Israel or Gaza’s Hamas rulers, instead expressing “grave concern” at the Gaza crisis and the loss of civilian lives and casualties.

The U.S. says it’s “engaging in intense diplomatic efforts at the highest levels to try to bring an end to this conflict.”


BEIRUT — The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group’s leader has made a rare public appearance in Beirut where he vowed that his group will keep fighting Israel, which he described as “weaker than a spider’s web.”

Ziad Nakhaleh told hundreds of supporters during a rally organized by Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group Monday evening that Israel is “targeting civilians and avoiding direct confrontation with holy warriors.”

The group’s military wing, the Quds Brigades, along with the military wing of Hamas have fired hundreds of rockets and missiles toward Israeli towns and cities since the latest round of fighting began last Monday.

Nakhaleh, who thanked Iran for its help, said the latest round of fighting “is a new page in defending Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque.”


SANAA, Yemen — Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa on Monday to denounce Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners calling for the boycott of Israeli and American goods. They also chanted: “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Many protesters were seen carrying AK-47 assault rifles.

The protests are called by Houthi rebels, who are allied with Hamas. Both groups have close ties with Iran, the archenemy of Israel.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian witnesses say at least two people were killed in an Israeli airstrike at the upper floor of an apartment building in Gaza City.

The witnesses say the bodies of man and a girl were brought to the Shifa hospital in the city. There was no immediate comment from the Health Ministry.

The latest airstrike occurred Monday in the same neighborhood at Wahda street where a series of conservative air raids had flattened three buildings and killed as many as 42 Palestinians early Sunday.

Meanwhile, a fresh airstrike has flattened a five-story commercial building housing the headquarters of the Hamas-run religious affairs ministry.

The armed wing of Hamas said Israel has resumed hitting houses Monday afternoon and said it would fire rockets toward Israel’s heartland in retaliation.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas’ Interior Ministry has ordered journalists and media production companies in Gaza to refrain from offering their services to two Saudi-owned satellite channels.

In a message sent to journalists’ mobiles, a ministry official stressed offering any service to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV and its news branch Al-Hadath are prohibited “by liability.”

Hamas has closed the Gaza offices of the channel during the 2014 war after accusing it of broadcasting “false news” meant to distort the Islamic militant group.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece says its foreign minister will head to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday for talks with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.

Nikos Dendias is to meet with Gabi Ashkenazi and Riad al-Maliki before heading later the same day to Jordan for talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, the foreign ministry announced Monday.

The minister will travel to Egypt on Thursday for a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri.

In the past Greece, which has long had good relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, has attempted to play a mediating role in their conflicts.


BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the current escalation in the Mideast conflict and emphasized Germany’s solidarity with Israel and the country’s right to self-defense.

She condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli and voiced her hope for a swift end to the fighting in light of the loss of civilian life on both sides.

Merkel’s office said she also stressed that the government will “continue to act decisively against protests in Germany at which hatred and antisemitism is spread.”

One of the leading contenders to succeed Merkel in Germany’s national election this fall, Annalena Baerbock of the center-left Greens, likewise condemned the Hamas rocket attacks and backed Israel’s right to self-defense.

She called for Germany and the European Union to support efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden to mediate between the warring parties.

Asked about Israel’s destruction of a high-rise building in Gaza used by international media, including AP, Baerbock said the principles of international humanitarian law, which bans attacks on civilians — apply in the conflict. Israel said the airstrike targeted Hamas, which it claimed was present in the building, but didn’t offer proof.


JERUSALEM — An Israeli man hurt in violent unrest by Arab citizens in central Israel last week has died of his injuries, his family says.

Police confirmed that Yigal Yehoshua, 56, was attacked and seriously injured by rioters in Lod on Monday, has died. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Lod saw some of the worst Jewish and Arab violent unrest that wracked Israeli cities last week. Police said that a total of 190 people were injured in the violence, 10 of them seriously. Yehoshua was the second confirmed death. Musa Hassuna was shot and killed May 11 during the first night of unrest in Lod.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “operations are continuing across the county to prevent and respond to incidents” with additional reinforcements in Lod.

— This item has been corrected to show that Yigal Yehoshua was the second confirmed death in the violence, not the first.


PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi stressed the “absolute need” to cease hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, the French presidency said.

During a working meeting in Paris on Monday, both leaders shared “strong concerns” about the escalation of violence in the Middle East and deplored the numerous civilian victims, the statement said.

Macron reaffirmed France’s support to Egypt’s mediation in the conflict.

Both leaders agreed to continue to coordinate their actions in favor of a “rapid cease-fire” and prevent a spreading of the conflict in the region, according to the French presidency.


BRUSSELS — The European Union will redouble its efforts to end the upsurge in violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants, and seek progress during a special meeting of its foreign ministers Tuesday, the bloc said.

The EU also called the weekend destruction of a building housing major international media “extremely worrying” and said safe working conditions for journalists were essential.

The EU has never had the impact Washington can wield in the region and no immediate breakthrough was expected from Tuesday’s meeting. Ever since the outbreak of violence last week, the EU has been calling for restraint and condemned attacks that hit civilian populations.


LONDON — The British government says Israel must ensure that its military activities against Hamas are “proportionate,” and it is deeply concerned by the destruction of media offices and other civilian targets in Gaza.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said Britain is “in contact with our U.S and U.N. counterparts and urgently seeking more information from the Israeli government” on Saturday’s attack, which destroyed a high-rise building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media organizations.

“We are deeply concerned by U.N. reports that 23 schools and 500 homes, as well as medical facilities and media offices, have been destroyed or damaged in Gaza,” Blain said. He added that “Israel must make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and military activity must be proportionate.”

Blain also said the U.K. was concerned about Hamas using civilian areas as cover. Israel says the media building was also being used by Hamas, though it has not offered evidence.


CAIRO — Egypt’s chief diplomat has warned against expanding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, urging all parties to strike a cease-fire.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said in televised comments that Egypt is working with international partners to reach a truce and embark on political negations aiming at achieving a “permanent, comprehensive and just” solution to the Palestinian cause.

He said Egypt hopes the U.S. administration will engage in such an effort to relaunch the political process in order to avert war and destruction in the region.

He called for Israel’s government to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and stop efforts by extremist settlers to change the nature of the city.


BERLIN — German officials have condemned the ongoing rocket fire by Hamas on Israel and demanded that the militant group immediately end those attacks.

“This is terror, which is intended to kill people indiscriminately,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reportes in Berlin. “The German government stands by Israel and its right to protect its population and defend itself.”

Seibert added that it was “tragic that so many human lives need to be lamented on both sides” but accused Hamas of “holding the Palestinian population in Gaza hostage” by launching its rockets from densely populated civilian areas.

Asked about the destruction of a Gaza building housing several media outlets, including AP, by Israel over the weekend, Seibert said it was important that journalists should be able to report from war zones, but again cited Israel’s right to self-defense. Israel has claimed the building was also used by Hamas, though it has not offered evidence.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The ambassador of the Czech Republic to Kuwait is apologizing over an image posted online of him draped in the Israeli flag, amid anger in the small, oil-rich nation over the death of Palestinians.

Martin Dvorak wrote an open letter posted on the embassy’s Twitter account on Monday after Kuwaitis posted angry messages to his Instagram account.

Dvorak wrote that his post inspired “understandable outrage and indignation among many people with regards to the current, deeply dramatic situation in the Gaza Strip.”

He added: “It was absolutely not my intention to express any manner of disrespect towards the innocent Palestinian victims and casualties whose loss we are currently witnessing.”

The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry summoned Dvorak on Monday over the post to express “its categorical rejection and strong disapproval.”

While some Gulf Arab nations now recognize Israel, Kuwait has not done so in a decades-long support of the Palestinians’ efforts to have an independent state.


MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia is “extremely concerned” about Israel’s destruction of a building in Gaza City that housed the AP’s longtime Gaza bureau and offices of other media organizations.

“We are extremely concerned about the growing number of human casualties,” Peskov added during a conference call with reporters.

Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t had any contacts with “neither the Israeli, nor the Palestinian side” in recent days, but such contacts “can be organized, if necessary.

The Kremlin spokesman added that “very energetic efforts are now being made both through the Quartet (of Middle East mediators, which comprises the U.N., the U.S., the European Union and Russia), and various countries are now in constant contact through bilateral channels with both the Israelis and the Palestinians in order to stop the exchange of strikes.”


ROME — The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis met with the Iranian foreign minister and spoke by telephone with the Turkish president amid the spiral of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Vatican said Francis spoke by phone around 9 a.m. Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Later, he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in Rome on a previously announced visit. The Vatican provided no comment on the content of the talks.

On Sunday, Francis appealed for calm and international help to open a path of dialogue. Speaking during his Sunday blessing, Francis said the deaths of children in the latest surge of violence was a “sign that they don’t want to build the future but want to destroy it.”


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked Pope Francis to support sanctions against Israel, saying Palestinians will continue to be “massacred” as long as the international community does not punish Israel.

During a telephone telephone call Monday with the pope, Erdogan also said that “continued messages and reactions” from Francis in support of Palestinians would be of great importance for the “mobilization of the Christian world and of the international community,” according to a statement from the Turkish presidential communications directorate.

During their conversation, Erdogan also renewed a call for the international community to take concrete steps to show Israel the “dissuasive reaction and lesson it deserves,” according to the statement. The Turkish leader has been engaged in a telephone diplomacy bid to end Israel’s use of force.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s mayor says Israeli airstrikes Monday on the Gaza Strip have caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure, while the Israeli military says they destroyed 15 kilometers (nine miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders.

“If the aggression continues we expect conditions to become worse,” mayor Yahya Sarraj told Al-Jazeera TV.

The U.N. has warned that the territory’s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel, and Sarraj said Gaza was also low on spare parts. Gaza already experiences daily power outages for between eight and 12 hours and tap water is undrinkable. Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the the territory’s electricity distribution company, said it has fuel to supply Gaza with electricity for two or three days. Airstrikes have damaged supply lines and the company’s staff cannot reach areas that were hit because of continued Israeli shelling, he added.

The war broke out last Monday, when the Hamas militant group fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

Since then, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,100 rockets into Israel.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes and 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks from Gaza.


JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have destroyed 15 kilometers (nine miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders.

Residents of Gaza awakened early Monday by the overnight barrage described it as the heaviest since the war began a week ago, and even more powerful than a wave of airstrikes in Gaza City the day before that left 42 dead and flattened three buildings.

There was no immediate word Monday on the casualties from the latest strikes. A three-story building in Gaza City was heavily damaged, but residents said the military warned them 10 minutes before the strike and everyone cleared out. They said many of the airstrikes hit nearby farmland.