Biden backs Gaza ceasefire while approving $735 million arms sale to Israel

Despite the flurry of US mediation, Congressional sources said legislators were not expected to object to the deal

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The Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip entered its second week on Tuesday, despite US and global diplomacy efforts to stop the bloodiest round of fighting between the sides since 2014.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it was fighting a “war of attrition” in Gaza and that a ground invasion remains possible.

While US President Joe Biden expressed his support on Monday for a ceasefire, telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington seeks an end to hostilities, the White House has approved the potential sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel. Sources in Congress told Reuters news agency that the plan faced no objection from politicians.

It's the first time the Biden administration has publicly declared its support for a ceasefire, so far having blocked all UN efforts to issue a statement on a possible truce.

Gaza health officials have put the Palestinian death toll at 212, including 61 children. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including eight from rocket attacks. The toll includes two children and a soldier.

Around midnight, six shells were fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel but fell short of crossing the border, Reuters cited the Israeli military as saying.

The UN peacekeepers in Lebanon (Unifil) said it was intensifying patrols after it detected the firing of rockets from the area of Rashaya Al Foukhar, north of Kfar Choub in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military said late on Monday that Hamas and other Palestinian groups had fired about 3,350 rockets from Gaza – 200 of them on Monday alone – and that Israeli air and artillery strikes had killed at least 130 militants.

At least 3,150 rockets have been fired into Israel since last Monday, while Israel has hit more than 820 "targets" in Gaza.

The strikes on Gaza have caused extensive damage to infrastructure, with roads leading to hospitals hit and sewage spilling out on to the streets in some areas, after pipes were destroyed.

Gaza residents said they are currently receiving only three to four hours of electricity daily.

The White House said that Mr Biden is speaking with Israeli and other regional partners to try to urge an end to the fighting.

“The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," the White House said in a readout of the phone call between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu.

The move comes amid mounting criticism from the president's own Democratic Party that he is not doing enough to end the conflict.

Twenty-nine Democratic and independent US senators on Sunday called for an “immediate ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas, and last week 12 Jewish members of Congress made a similar request.

Yet, a senior Israeli official cast doubt on Monday on the possibility of a ceasefire, saying "there is no such thing right now. There is no negotiation. There is no proposal. There is nothing on the table".

Egypt was probably the most reliable mediator, the official said. "They seem most connected."

Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, has mediated Israel-Hamas ceasefires in the past, along with Qatar and the UN. The General Assembly will meet to discuss the violence on Thursday.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - MAY 06: U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General. Mark Milley participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon May 6, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Milley held the briefing to answer questions from members of the media.   Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP
File photo of U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. AFP.

Amid seemingly fruitless diplomatic efforts to stop the violence, the top US military officer, General Mark Milley, warned the violence could spread, Reuters reported.

"My assessment is that you risk broader destabilisation and you risk a whole series of negative consequences if the fighting continues," Mr Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters before landing in Brussels on Monday for talks with Nato allies. "It's in no one's interest to continue fighting."

Meanwhile, Jordan promised on Monday to look into a parliamentary request to expel the Israeli ambassador as the authorities take a tougher diplomatic line on the war.

Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh was quoted as saying the government will study the request “in accordance with our national interest".

Parliament “unanimously” presented a memo to the government on Monday demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in Amman, state television said.

Jordan was the main destination for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 and 1967 conflicts. They and their descendants comprise a large proportion of Jordan’s 10 million population.

Jordanian officials say the kingdom has begun intensive diplomacy to convince world powers to curb a disproportionate Israeli response against Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas militants since a Palestinian civil war in 2007. Hamas, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, was expelled from Jordan in the late 1990s.

On Monday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a second call with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat and with Egypt's Gen Abbas Kamel.

“The United States is engaged in quiet, intensive diplomacy and our efforts will continue,” he said in a statement.

In calls to his Saudi, Qatari and Egyptian counterparts on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had avoided using the term “ceasefire”, instead using softer language such as expressing hopes to “restore calm in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza”.

Mr Blinken on Monday spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the US State Department said.

The two discussed the path forward, with Mr Blinken noting that the US would remain engaged with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other regional stakeholders to bring an end to the hostilities.