Biden says 'Israel has a right to defend itself' after speaking with Netanyahu as conflict escalates

Biden says 'Israel has a right to defend itself' after speaking with Netanyahu as conflict escalates
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccination program at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2021.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
  • Biden said Israel "has a right to defend itself" after speaking with Netanyahu.
  • His administration is sending an envoy to the region as part of an effort to de-escalate tensions.
  • The recent violence marks the worst fighting the region has seen in years.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday said Israel had the "right to defend itself" after speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

"Israel has the right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory," Biden told reporters. "My hope is that we'll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later."

A White House readout of Biden's call with Netanyahu said the president conveyed to the Israeli leader "his unwavering support for Israel's security and for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians."

"He also conveyed the United States' encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm," the readout added. "He shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace."

The White House said Biden and Netanyahu "agreed to maintain the close consultation between their teams ... and to stay in touch personally in the days ahead."


Violence between Israel and Hamas reignited in recent days amid tensions over efforts to remove Palestinians from parts of east Jerusalem. Hamas started firing rockets from Gaza on Monday, and Israel has responded with airstrikes that have leveled apartment buildings. The International Criminal Court's main prosecutor on Wednesday said she was monitoring both Israel and Hamas for war crimes as the violence escalated.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed at least 65 people - including 16 children and several Hamas members, The Associated Press reported, citing Gaza's health ministry. And at least six Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups, Reuters reported, citing medical officials.

The recent hostilities are a product of a complex array of historical and more immediate factors.

Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and economy-crippling blockade on Gaza remains at the heart of the dispute. Top human-rights organizations have recently denounced Israel's treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid.

More recently, the planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem exacerbated tensions. And an Israeli police raid on one of Islam's holiest sites in Jerusalem on Monday, which occurred in concert with Ramadan and left hundreds injured, also pushed the two sides toward a bloodier conflict.


The Biden administration was in many ways unprepared to address the renewed violence in the region. The US does not have a permanent ambassador in Israel, and Biden hasn't nominated anyone for the post yet.

The State Department announced on Wednesday that the administration was sending an envoy to the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation, but Israel has rebuffed any discussions of a cease-fire so far.