WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Tuesday for a cease-fire in the Middle East, ratcheting up pressure on the Biden administration to intervene more forcefully to help end the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Calling Israel “our friend and ally,” Pelosi said it is in the U.S. national security interest to support security in Israel.
“Hamas exploited a volatile situation to initiate hostilities against Israel, launching more than 3,000 rockets, and as always, Israel has a right to defend herself,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“Now, after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more apparent that a cease-fire is necessary,” she said. “There must be a serious effort on the part of both parties to end the violence and respect the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
Defense secretary urges Israel against ground invasion
Behind the scenes, top Biden administration officials – including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin – have urged Israeli military leaders not to escalate the conflict by launching a ground invasion, according to a person familiar with the matter. This person said the White House has been deeply concerned that would lead to a protracted weeks-long campaign.
The prospects of a ground invasion have now receded somewhat, this source said, and there’s even some hope the conflict could wind down in a matter of days. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The U.S. is also urging Israel to make public the intelligence it relied on to strike an office building that housed The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, this person said. That strike, which leveled the building, has triggered widespread outrage. The AP’s CEO and others have demanded to see the intelligence and suggested it was an effort to censor media coverage of what’s happening in Gaza.
Biden addresses Rep. Tlaib, others
On Tuesday, Biden referenced the conflict in the Middle East briefly while speaking at Ford Motor Co.’s electric-vehicle plant in Dearborn, Michigan.
During his opening remarks, Biden told Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat who is the only Palestinian-American in the Congress, that he admired her passion and concern for other people and said he prayed that her family is well.
“I promise I’m going to do everything to see that they are in the West Bank,” he said.
In a private conversation, Tlaib challenged the president to address the plight of the Palestinians.
“Palestinian human rights are not a bargaining chip and must be protected, not negotiated,” Tlaib told Biden, according to her office. “The U.S. cannot continue to give the right-wing Netanyahu government billions each year to commit crimes against Palestinians.”
Tuesday’s developments come as a growing number of Democrats in Congress are calling for an end to the conflict and pressing Biden to become more engaged.
On Monday, 29 Democratic and independent senators issued a joint statement calling for an immediate cease-fire.
“To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate cease-fire,” said the group led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.
Violence, protests erupt in West Bank
The calls by Pelosi and other members of Congress for a cease-fire came as the deadly tensions entered their second week.
A rocket launched from Gaza killed two Thai workers in southern Israel on Tuesday, police said, hours after Israeli airstrikes toppled a six-story building in the Palestinian territory that housed bookstores and educational centers. With the war showing no sign of abating, Palestinians in the region staged a general strike in a rare collective action against Israel’s policies.
Violence erupted at protests in the occupied West Bank, including in the city of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and hurled stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, and protesters picked up some of them and threw them back.
One protester was killed and more than 70 wounded – including 16 by live fire – in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli army said two soldiers were wounded by gunshots to the leg.
The general strike was an uncommon show of unity among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state. It threatened to further widen the conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the West Bank last week.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.