Biden welcomes Gaza ceasefire, says US proud to back life-saving Iron Dome

US president thanks Egypt for leading talks alongside Qatar, backs probe of civilian casualties caused by Israel and PIJ, commends Lapid’s leadership during the crisis

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden responds to reporters' questions as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on his way to his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home after his most recent COVID-19 isolation, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US President Joe Biden responds to reporters' questions as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on his way to his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home after his most recent COVID-19 isolation, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US President Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group, which went into place Sunday night after over three days of fighting.

As was the case during the previous Gaza conflict in May 2021, the Biden administration played more of a supporting role in the ceasefire efforts, which were led by Egypt.

Biden said in a statement that the US had been in contact with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan in order to bring a swift end to the fighting, and he thanked Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi along with Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani for their central roles in the effort.

The president also commended Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his government’s “steady leadership throughout the crisis.”

As the White House did on the first day of the conflict, Biden expressed his support for Israel’s right to defend itself against “indiscriminate” PIJ rocket fire and added that the US “is proud of our support for Israel’s Iron-Dome, which intercepted hundreds of rockets and saved countless lives.” Earlier this year, the US approved an additional $500 million in funding for Iron Dome replenishments following the May 2021 Gaza conflict.

Biden lamented the civilians whose lives were cut short by the conflict, “whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza.”

He said his administration supports “timely and thorough investigation[s]” into those deaths.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said 44 Palestinians were killed in the roughly 80 hours of fighting, including 15 children. Israel reportedly believes at least 12 of those deaths were due to PIJ rocket fire that fell inside the Strip. The Gaza health ministry said another 360 Palestinians were wounded.

Palestinian boys gather together on sunset in Gaza City on July 28, 2022. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

“We also call on all parties to fully implement the ceasefire, and to ensure fuel and humanitarian supplies are flowing into Gaza as the fighting subsides,” the president said.

As has been the case in just about every Biden administration statement regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he concluded his message by asserting that “Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy.”

“My administration will remain engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support that vision and to implement the initiatives launched during my [recent] visit to improve the quality of life for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he added, apparently referring to a package of steps announced last month aimed at improving Palestinian livelihood, but that have yet to be implemented and require Israeli follow-through.

The ceasefire took effect at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, with PIJ fighters using the last moments to fire several barrages of rockets at southern Israeli cities, while the IDF said it struck military targets throughout the coastal enclave.

As of Sunday evening — several hours before the ceasefire — the IDF said that PIJ had launched 935 rockets toward Israel since Friday. Of those, 160 fell short, in the Gaza Strip, according to the latest data, and around 300 were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. Most others fell in open areas, but there were a few sporadic reports of impacts near homes or industrial buildings.

As part of the ceasefire, Egypt agreed to work to ensure the release of Khalil al-Awawda, an Islamic Jihad member who is hunger striking in protest of his detention by Israel without any charges, a senior Middle East diplomat told The Times of Israel.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The diplomat added that Egypt will also work to release PIJ West Bank leader Bassam al-Saadi who was arrested last week in what is believed to have helped spark the latest round of violence. He indicated that Saadi’s immediate release would be more difficult to achieve, though it is also not clear what al-Saadi is being charged with.

The diplomat criticized the Israeli policy of administrative detention, which allows it to hold suspects practically indefinitely without charge.

Also as part of the ceasefire deal, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland agreed that a UN team will visit both Saadi and al-Awawda, the senior Middle East diplomat said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also welcomed the ceasefire announcement while expressing “deep sad[ness] over the loss of life during the latest escalation.

An Israeli soldier takes cover as an Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“The hostilities have contributed to a humanitarian emergency. Crossings into Gaza have been closed and power shortages are affecting essential facilities and supplies. Hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless,” Guterres said.

The secretary general commended Egypt for its “efforts carried out, in close coordination with the UN, to help restore calm.”

Guterres asserted that “only a negotiated sustainable political solution will end, once and for all, these devastating cycles of violence and lead to a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

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