Biden expresses 'support for a cease-fire' to Netanyahu as Israel-Hamas conflict worsens

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday afternoon, but made no direct call for an immediate end to violence as the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas entered a second week with no signs of a nearing resolution.

The White House said that Biden "expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end."

"The President reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks. The President welcomed efforts to address intercommunal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem. He encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians," the White House added.

The call, his second with the Israeli prime minister over three days, comes as Biden faces increasing political pressure from Democrats to take a tougher approach on Israel and as the international community grows increasingly outraged over the treatment of the Palestinian people.

Earlier Monday, neither Biden nor White House press secretary Jen Psaki answered directly whether or not the White House would call for a cease-fire in the region.

"Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy," Psaki told reporters. "That is how we feel we can be most effective."

The Gaza Health Ministry put the death toll in the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians at 197, including 58 children and 34 women, over the last week. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.

The violence is the worst it has been in the region since 2014, when more than 2,000 people died.

More than 25 Democratic senators wrote a letter on Sunday calling for an immediate cease-fire in the region and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a strong supporter of Israel, released a statement Saturday criticizing the Israeli military attack on the media tower housing The Associated Press, BBC, Al Jazeera, and other news outlets.

Netanyahu has defended the strike, claiming that Hamas also operated out of the building, but has not provided any evidence for that claim.

Biden spoke separately Saturday with Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In that conversation with Netanyahu, Biden "reaffirmed his strong support for Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza," according to a White House readout of the call, while expressing to Abbas "his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom, and economic opportunity that they deserve."

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