The Latest: Biden says his party ‘still supports Israel’

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Palestinians on a horse carte loaded with belongings, pass by destroyed homes, to which they returned following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday there has been no shift in his commitment to Israel’s security, but insisted a two-state solution that includes a state for Palestinians remains “the only answer” to that conflict.

Biden spoke at a White House news conference on the first full day of a cease-fire after 11 days of Israeli-Hamas fighting that killed well over 200 people, most of them Palestinians in Gaza.

Biden, speaking at the end of a visit by the president of South Korea, also played down the idea that the newly ended fighting had opened a rift among Democrats, as scores of Democrats split with Biden’s “quiet diplomacy” with ally Israel to publicly demand a cease-fire.

“My party still supports Israel,” Biden said. “Let’s get something straight here,” he added. “Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken following the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.

Abbas’ office says the two discussed the latest developments in the call on Friday evening. The Palestinian leader urged the Biden administration to pressure Israel to halt the violence in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The statement said Abbas appreciated U.S. efforts to “provide humanitarian aid and mobilize the international support necessary for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.”

The U.S. State Department has said that Blinken would visit the region next week “to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians” in the wake of the truce. Blinken and Abbas are to meet during the visit.

The cease-fire was brokered by neighboring Egypt after the U.S. pressed Israel to wind down its campaign on Gaza.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has allocated $18.6 million to Gaza for emergency humanitarian needs and plans to launch a flash appeal next week for funds to cover needs over the next three months.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock allocated $4.5 million from the U.N.’s emergency relief fund for Gaza on Friday, following the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip. Earlier in the week, Lowcock released $14.1 million from the fund.

Dujarric said the U.N. was able to send 13 trucks with food, COVID-19 vaccines, disposable medical items, drugs including emergency medicines, and first aid kits into Gaza following the partial reopening of the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel as the cease-fire took hold.

Dujarric said the Erez passenger crossing was also opened temporarily for senior humanitarian officials to enter Gaza including Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA, and the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the region, Lynn Hastings.

The U.N. spokesman said the cease-fire announcement led to a mass exodus from UNRWA schools where thousands of Palestinians had sought safety. The number still in UNRWA schools on Friday dropped to less than 1,000 from a high of over 66,000.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has congratulated Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after a cease-fire with Israel took effect in the territory, calling the truce a “victory over the criminal Zionist regime.”

Iran’s state TV website carried a letter by Khamenei addressed to the Palestinians on Friday, in which he also urged for prosecution of Israel’s archenemy Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in international courts over the Gaza campaign.

Iran has been a close ally of Hamas and other militant groups in the Middle East.

In his letter, Khamenei also urged all Muslim countries to rally in support of Palestinian people, “whether by strengthening Palestinian forces, with financial support that is needed today more than before, or by rebuilding the infrastructure that was destroyed in Gaza.”

Separately, Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard in a statement on its website, sepahnews.com, echoed Khamenei’s congratulations to Gazans on their “victory.”

And the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, tweeted a message to Palestinians: “Your resistance forced the aggressor to retreat.”

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister says he hopes the Palestinian people will one day have their own country and says he believes that the world opinion was changing in their favor in the wake of devastating Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

Imran Khan spoke after a cease-fire between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Israel went into effect early Friday. In a televised video message, he thanked his countrymen for holding nationwide rallies to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

The latest Israel-Hamas war erupted May 10 and after 11 days of fighting, at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Pakistanis rallied in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in support of Palestinians. Pakistan is among few countries with no diplomatic ties with Israel.

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TOKYO — Japan’s foreign minister has welcomed the ceasefire that took effect Friday between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Israel.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expressed “respect” for mediation efforts by the United States, Egypt and other countries. He also stressed the need for all involved parties to continue their efforts toward achieving a two-state solution in the Middle East that will bring peace to the region.

Also Friday, hundreds of people in Tokyo, many of them from Muslim countries, gathered outside the Israeli Embassy for a pro-Palestinian rally where people chanted “who is the terrorist?” and “Israel is the terrorist.” Some Japanese residents also joined the protest.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization has tallied “significant trauma needs” in Palestinian areas, where at least 243 people have been killed during 11 days of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a total of 8,538 people had been injured across Palestinian areas during the violence, and 30 health facilities in Gaza had been damaged — with one clinic fully destroyed and another sustaining significant damage. She said damage to infrastructure was impeding the access of ambulances.

The comments to a U.N. briefing in Geneva came as humanitarian aid workers assessed the fallout from the latest fighting between Hamas militant fighters and Israeli forces.

Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated there were “several hundred” pieces of unexploded ordnance strewn about in Gaza and said medical supplies were a pressing need.

Matthias Schmale, Gaza director for UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees, cited a “window” of several hours on Friday during which aid and supplies could be brought in through the Kerem Shalom crossing point into Gaza. Speaking by video from Gaza City, he noted that a central laboratory that carries out testing for COVID-19 had been “made dysfunctional by a massive bomb explosion.”

Alluding to a cease-fire that took effect overnight, he said it “feels like a fragile cease fire” and lamented the “unbearable and unacceptable cost this has had for the civilian population. And I know that applies to people in Israel, too.”

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TEHRAN — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has unveiled a new drone named “Gaza,” amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the country’s state TV reported Friday.

The report said the wide-body drone has a 35-hour flight duration and is capable of carrying 13 bombs more than 2,000 kilometers ( 1,240 miles).

TV also said in addition to military surveillance, combat, reconnaissance missions, the Gaza drone can monitor forests, help rescue operations and providing assistance in natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Gen. Hossein Salami, chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, said during the unveiling ceremony that “we called it Gaza so that God willing it can be an eternal honor for those who are resisting the Zionist invasion.”

Iran does not recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli militant groups like Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese’s Hezbollah.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has welcomed the cease-fire in Gaza but is also calling for a two-state solution to ensure a permanent end to the conflict.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement on Friday said Turkey expects the international community, and especially the U.N. Security Council, “to act in order to bring a complete end to the persecution” of Palestinians.

The ministry said: “In order to prevent the recurrence of the pain and tears in Palestine, it is necessary to ensure that Israel is made accountable internationally for its crimes and lifts the inhumane blockade imposed on Gaza.”

The statement also called for an end to the “Israeli occupation” of Palestinian territories in order to achieve a lasting, fair and comprehensive solution, and added that Turkey would continue to support the Palestinians’ “just cause.”

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers against any further rocket attacks following a cease-fire.

In a speech hours after the truce took effect on Friday, he said, “if Hamas thinks we will tolerate a drizzle of rockets, it is wrong.” He vowed to respond with “a new level of force against any expression of aggression against communities around Gaza and any other part of Israel.”

Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war, their fourth since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s foreign minister says her country is “very concerned” about the high casualty rates in Gaza, the suffering of the civilian population and the “great devastation.”

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide made the comments as her country announced stepping up humanitarian aid to Gaza by 30 million kroner ($3.6 million).

That comes on top of 71 million kroner ($8.5 million) in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians that the Scandinavian country has given so far in 2021. The money will be channeled through the United Nations and humanitarian organizations.

In a separate statement, Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said “now that the guns have finally gone silent, let us not mistake this calm for normality.”

Egeland said that leaders in the U.S., Europe and the Arab world should “push Israel and the Palestinians to work out a way that will end this unsustainable injustice.”

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BEIJING — China says it will offer cash and 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians caught up in the latest fighting in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday told reporters that $1 million would be provided as emergency humanitarian assistance and another $1 million would go to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that provides vital assistance to the 75% of the enclave’s population who are refugees.

China will “continue to provide humanitarian support within its capacity and actively participate in the reconstruction of Gaza according to the needs of the Palestinian side,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

The fighting has brought Gaza’s health care system to the brink of collapse and its COVID-19 vaccination drive, already slow, has stopped, according to WHO’s top official in Gaza, Sacha Bootsma. China has become a major exporter and donor of COVID-19 vaccines, taking a leading role in what some have termed “vaccine diplomacy.”

China is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause but also maintains robust ties with Israel.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister has welcomed a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas- militant group that rules Gaza.

According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he hoped latest the cease-fire announcement could help revive efforts for a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian issue.

Qureshi’s comments came Friday as Pakistanis across the country began gathering for anti-Israel rallies to express solidarity with Palestinians.

Pakistan is among few countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat is welcoming the Gaza cease-fire, but he says only a revival of long-term peace talks can ensure that such fighting does not flare up again in the future.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday in a statement that “we commend Egypt, Qatar, United Nations, United States and others who have played a facilitating role in this.”

Borrell says “the situation in the Gaza Strip has long been unsustainable. Only a political solution will bring sustainable peace and end once for all the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

He says that “restoring a political horizon towards a two-state solution now remains of utmost importance” and that the EU stands ready to help both sides achieve that.

The EU’s support for a two-state solution is long-standing, but the 27-nation bloc is divided over how to handle relations with Israel and the Palestinians. On Tuesday, Hungary blocked the publication of a joint statement on the conflict.

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PARIS — The French minister of foreign affairs is praising the Gaza cease-fire as the outcome of diplomatic efforts involving Europeans, the United States and several Arab countries.

In a statement, Jean-Yves Le Drian praised the “fundamental role” of Egypt in the talks that led to that result. He said the cessation of hostilities was the “absolute priority” to protect civilian populations and avoid an extension of the conflict.

The statement said France seeks to play a role in reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities, and wants to see humanitarian aid resume to the region, particularly to Gaza.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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