A member of the Palestinian Civil Protection walks amid the rubble of a building in Gaza City that houses the Intaj Bank, affiliated with the Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip, on May 15, 2021.
Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday amid mounting violence.
During a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, the president reiterated his support for Israel’s right to self-defense against rocket attacks by the Hamas militant group in Gaza and condemned attacks in cities in Israel, according to an advertisement published by the White House.
“The president noted that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children,” the ad said. “He raised concerns about the safety of journalists and reiterated the need to ensure their protection.”
Netanyahu told Biden that Israel “is doing everything it can to avoid injuring those who are not involved in Hamas” and that “those who are not involved” have been evacuated from the 12-story building in the Gaza Strip, which housed the offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Three Israeli heavy missiles collapsed the building on Saturday.
“Netanyahu thanked the President for the United States’ full support for our right to defend us,” read an ad in the appeal published by Netanyahu’s office.
The President spoke with Abbas about the tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and their shared interest in making Jerusalem a “place of peaceful coexistence for people of all faiths and backgrounds”.
“The President also underlined his strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best way to achieve a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” read a reading from this call.
The extraordinary fire in Israel and Gaza has become an urgent early test of Biden’s foreign policy. The President worked in the Oval Office for some time on Saturday. He usually works on weekends at Camp David or his home state of Delaware.
The news that media offices had been destroyed sparked international outrage and shock and prompted the White House to act before the Biden ads were published.
United States President Joe Biden speaks on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Response and Vaccination Program from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington May 13, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The Biden government has “directly advised Israelis that ensuring the safety of journalists and independent media outlets is paramount,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote in a tweet on Saturday.
The Associated Press president in a statement on Saturday said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had evacuated the building prior to the strike, but “a terrible loss of life” was narrowly despite Israel’s warnings that the building would be hit been avoided.
“We are shocked and appalled that the Israeli military would attack and destroy the building that houses the AP office and other news organizations in Gaza,” said Gary Pruitt, AP President and CEO. “They have known the location of our office for a long time and know that journalists are there. We have received a warning that the building will be hit.”
“This is an incredibly worrying development,” said Pruitt of the airstrike.
Al Jazeera’s general manager accused Israel of trying to silence the media and condemned the air strike as a war crime and called on the international community to hold Israel accountable.
“The destruction of the offices of Al Jazeera and other media organizations in the Al Jalaa Tower in Gaza is an obvious violation of human rights and is internationally viewed as a war crime,” said Dr. Mostefa Souag, Acting General Manager of the Al Jazeera Media Network, in an article on the news agency’s website.
“We call on the international community to condemn such barbaric acts and the targeting of journalists, and we call for immediate international action to hold Israel accountable for targeting journalists and media institutions,” Souag said.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and hide the immeasurable slaughter and suffering of the people of Gaza,” said Souag.
At least 139 people, including 39 children, were killed in Gaza. And eight people were killed in Israel when the conflict escalated.
Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called in a statement on Saturday for “full accounting for actions that have resulted in the death of civilians and the destruction of media companies.”
“All political and military leaders have a responsibility to uphold the rules and laws of war, and it is of the utmost importance that all actors find ways to de-escalate and reduce tension,” he said. “This violence must stop.”
– Reuters and Associated Press contributed to the coverage