White House condemns rocket attacks against Israel
The White House on Tuesday condemned ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel and called for de-escalation.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Biden has been briefed “daily” on the developments in Jerusalem and Gaza, including earlier Tuesday afternoon as videos circulated showing a barrage of rockets targeting Tel Aviv.
“Since last week, he has directed his team to engage intensively with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as leaders throughout the Middle East. His team is communicating a clear and consistent message of de-escalation, and that is our primary focus,” Psaki said at a regular press briefing.
“The president’s support for Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, is fundamental and will never waiver. We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem. We also stand against extremism that has inflicted violence on both communities,” she continued.
Psaki said that the Biden administration would continue to pursue conditions for diplomacy and de-escalation, and she reiterated Biden’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“That is the only way to ensure the just and lasting peace the two peoples have struggled to achieve,” Psaki said.
“We believe Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity, and U.S. officials have in recent weeks spoken candidly to Israeli officials about how evictions of Palestinian families who have lived for years, sometimes decades, in their homes and how demolitions of these homes work against our common interests and achieving a solution to the conflict,” she said.
Days of clashes in Jerusalem rapidly escalated overnight as Israel launched retaliatory strikes that killed two dozen people in Gaza after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and southern Israel, with civilian casualties reported on both sides, including children.
“The loss of life of innocent Palestinian civilians, innocent Israelis, is something we deeply regret,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. “It is precisely why we are doing everything we can, we are doing everything we can in coordination with our international partners to put an end to a cycle of escalation and a cycle of violence.”
A 13-story building in the Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday night after being hit by an Israeli airstrike, and videos showed it falling to the ground as plumes of dark smoke filled the sky.
Hamas further retaliated by targeting Tel Aviv with dozens of rockets Tuesday evening in an ongoing cycle of attacks that shows little signs of abating. Videos showed the sky over Tel Aviv lighting up as interceptor missiles stopped the rockets from hitting places in Israel.
Two-dozen Palestinians and two Israelis were were reported dead as of Tuesday afternoon.
Psaki’s comments on Tuesday represented the most extensive remarks from the White House on the ongoing violence. Biden has not yet nominated an ambassador to Israel, something that could complicate the U.S. response to the recent violence.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan phoned his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, for the second time in as many days, the White House said.
“He condemned the ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne. “He conveyed the President’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians. He also conveyed the United States’ encouragement of steps toward restoring a sustainable calm. They agreed to continue to stay in close touch.”
Sullivan also spoke with the Egyptian government, which has also tried to de-escalate the situation, on Wednesday, Horne said.
Laura Kelly contributed.
Updated 6:35 p.m.