JERUSALEM (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off a two-day visit to Israel on Wednesday, where he expressed “total solidarity” with the country over the monthlong war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Cuomo met Israeli leaders hours before a temporary truce between the sides was set to expire. Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been in talks in Egypt over a long-term cease-fire.
Speaking at the residence of newly inaugurated President Reuven Rivlin, Cuomo said Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas and Islamic militants.
“We understand the attack that you are under,” Cuomo said. “Everyone wishes for peace and that’s our eternal hope, but we also understand your need to do what is right by your people in defense, and we’re here to support you in that.”
Rivlin said he was certain that the United States would continue to stand behind Israel.
The monthlong Gaza war has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are Hamas and other gunmen. It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket-launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.” Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting. Eleven of the soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from cross-border tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas has fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.
Later Wednesday, Cuomo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised Cuomo and the American government for “standing on the right side of the moral divide.”
New York is home to 1.7 million Jews, the largest concentration outside of Israel, a fact Cuomo emphasized in his meetings. Cuomo faces a Democratic primary next month.
This is Cuomo’s fourth trip to Israel, his office said. On Wednesday, Cuomo also visited the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, two of Jerusalem’s most revered religious sites. On Thursday, Cuomo is expected to meet residents and injured soldiers in Israel’s south.
Cuomo’s office said the governor and his delegation would not visit Palestinian territories or meet Palestinian officials during the 30-hour trip, despite a personal invitation by the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to experience “all sides of the conflict, not just one.”
Cuomo told reporters before leaving for Israel that he only received the letter from Ambassador Riyad Mansour late Tuesday.
“This trip is to show solidarity with Israel and that’s what we’re going to do,” Cuomo said Tuesday.
Traveling with Cuomo in a bipartisan delegation showing support for Israel are state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate coalition co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein. New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman also is on the trip.
Times of Irael staff and JTA contributed to this report.