Amid rocket attacks, US top diplomat says ‘all sides need to de-escalate’

Antony Blinken calls on Hamas to end rocket fire ‘immediately’; State Department spokesman says ‘Palestinian have right to safety and security, just like Israelis do’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media prior to a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the State Department in Washington, Monday, May 10, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media prior to a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the State Department in Washington, Monday, May 10, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged both Israel and the Palestinians to lower tensions and pressed for an immediate end to rocket fire by Hamas, which has killed three people in the Jewish state.

“All sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down,” Blinken said as he met his Jordanian counterpart in Washington.

Blinken strongly condemned rocket fire by Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, and backed Israel’s right to respond.

The rocket attacks “need to stop immediately,” Blinken said.

He also praised steps taken by Israel over the past day partly in response to concerns led by the United States, including rerouting a flashpoint parade meant to celebrate Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem and capture of its eastern half in 1967.

Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Blinken also pointed to the postponement of a decision on the eviction of Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which has been described as a trigger for the violence that has left hundreds of Palestinians injured in the holy city in clashes with police.

“But it’s imperative for all sides to take steps to de-escalate the situation,” Blinken said.

At his daily briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price added: “We call for restraint and for calm. Israel has the right to defend itself and to respond to rocket attacks.

“The Palestinian people also have the right to safety and security, just as Israelis do,” Price told reporters.

“Reports of civilian deaths are something that we regret and would like to come to a stop,” Price added. “We don’t want to see provocations. The provocations we have seen have resulted in a deeply lamentable loss of life,” he said.

“We continue to call for calm, continue to call on all sides to de-escalate and to exercise restraint in their actions.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that Jerusalem was a “red line” for the kingdom, which has a peace treaty with Israel and maintains custodianship over the Temple Mount, where most of the violence in the city has occurred.

“Our focus right now is on ensuring that the escalation stops, and for that to happen we believe that all illegal, provocative measures against the peoples of Sheikh Jarrah or in terms of violations into al-Haram must stop,” Safadi said.

The scene after a rocket hit Ashkelon, May 11, 2021 (Israel Police)

In response to the unrest in Jerusalem, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, including at the capital and Tel Aviv on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday, three women were killed and dozens were injured, including several seriously, by rocket fire on southern and central Israel.

In response to the rocket attacks from Gaza, the IDF launched Operation Guardian of the Walls on Monday night, some three hours after the attack on Jerusalem, striking Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Strip, as well as members of the terror group. According to the military, a number of high-level commanders in the groups have been targeted, including the head of PIJ’s rocket unit in the northern Gaza Strip and the brother of its former top commander, who was killed in an Israeli strike in November 2019, sparking a large conflict.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, 28 Gazans have been killed in the fighting, including nine minors, and 125 wounded in the ongoing escalation with Israel. Fifteen Gazans sustained serious injuries, according to Hamas health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra. Israel said more than half were Hamas fighters and that some of those killed, including at least three of the children, were struck by errant rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists, not Israeli strikes.

The military initially believed that Hamas was not interested in a large-scale conflict with Israel at this time, but that assessment changed over the past two days and the IDF began preparing accordingly.

Smoke billows from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on May 11, 2021 (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Palestinian terror groups have tied the attacks to the unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Israel has fought three large operations against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip since 2008, most recently in 2014 with a 51-day war known as Operation Protective Edge.

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