President Joe Biden on Saturday spoke to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza worsens.
According to the White House, Biden “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza” to Netanyahu, while also raising concerns “about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection” in the wake of an Israeli airstrike which leveled a building in Gaza City which housed journalists from The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera TV and other media outlets.
“The President shared his grave concern about the intercommunal violence across Israel,” the White House said. "He welcomed the statements by the Prime Minister and other leaders opposing such hateful acts and encouraged continued steps to hold violent extremists accountable and to establish calm.”
Netanyahu emphasized to Biden that Israel is “doing everything to avoid harming” those who are not affiliated with Hamas, thanking the president for the country’s “unequivocal support” of Israel’s right to defend itself.
To Abbas, Biden “discussed the current tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and expressed their shared desire for Jerusalem to be a place of peaceful coexistence for people of all faiths and backgrounds,” and emphasized “the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel.”
Biden conveyed the country’s “commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Palestinian partnership” and “expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom, and economic opportunity that they deserve” — including the United States’ recent decision to once again humanitarian and economic assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The president also emphasized “his strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution” as the best way to reach a sustained and fair end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
The calls come after domestic and international backlash in response to the destruction of the building housing media outlets.
The White House earlier Saturday said that the U.S. has “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” according to a statement posted to Twitter by press secretary Jen Psaki.
In a statement, the AP’s president said that they were “shocked and horrified” by the attack on its office, and though their journalists were warned ahead of time and were able to evacuate safely, “the world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
Dr. Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, wrote that the destruction of the building “a blatant violation of human rights and is internationally considered a war crime.”
“We call on the international community to condemn such barbaric actions and targeting of journalists and we demand an immediate international action to hold Israel accountable for its deliberate targeting of journalists and the media institutions,” he continued. “The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza.”
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets” and urged a “full accounting of actions that have led to civilian deaths and destruction of media outlets.”
Israel’s Air Force defended its actions, writing in a statement posted to its Facebook page that the building “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization.”
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. In Gaza, at least 145 people have been killed, including 41 children and 23 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.