Biden calls Egypt's El Sisi for first time to discuss Palestine-Israel crisis

Pair discuss efforts to bring 11 days of fighting to close

US President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021.  / AFP / Nicholas Kamm
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US President Joe Biden and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi reviewed efforts to end hostilities in Israel and the Gaza Strip in a call on Thursday.

It was the first time the pair have spoken directly since Mr Biden took office in January.

"The two leaders discussed efforts to achieve a ceasefire that will bring an end to the current hostilities in Israel and Gaza," the White House said.

"They agreed that their teams would stay in constant communication toward that end and the two leaders would stay closely in touch."

In Cairo, the presidency said Mr Biden initiated the call and the two exchanged views on “how to co-operate to halt the violence and escalation in Palestinian territories in view of the latest developments".

News of their conversation broke as unconfirmed reports discussed a nearing truce between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules the Gaza strip, to end 11 days of fighting.

The White House said the two leaders agreed to bolster co-ordination between “relevant agencies” in both countries to halt the “escalation” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt, which borders both Gaza and Israel, has been actively mediating between the two sides.

The US, which sponsored Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has this week demanded a major de-escalation in the violence.

The White House confirms call between Biden and El Sisi

The White House confirms call between Biden and El Sisi

Hostilities between the two sides broke out when Hamas fired its first barrage of rockets on Israel two weeks ago, after Palestinians battled Israeli security forces on the streets of Jerusalem, and to avenge the storming of the city’s Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, by Israeli police during Ramadan.

The phone conversation is a milestone in Egypt’s relations with Washington’s Democratic administration after a period of tension.

While day-to-day relations continued apace between the two countries since Mr Biden’s election, the absence of direct contact between the president and Mr El Sisi appeared to be awkward.

That omission was considered to be a deliberate snub despite the fact that Mr El Sisi had not been alone in waiting for a call.

The Biden administration made it clear that it wanted to see Egypt improve its human rights record and stop its purchase of Russian arms, including cutting-edge Su-35 fighter jets.

Egypt has been a close Washington ally since 1979 when it became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, America’s closest Middle East partner.

For continuing to honour that treaty, and with its counter-terrorism role in the region, Egypt has received billions of dollars’ worth of economic and military aid every year, which runs at about $1.3 billion annually.