Antony Blinken, Wendy Sherman speak with Israeli counterparts on Gaza escalations

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

US State Department spokesman Ned Price says senior US officials have been in contact with their Israeli counterparts in recent days regarding the ongoing escalation in Jerusalem and Gaza.

This includes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who spoke with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman who spoke with her Israeli counterpart, Price says. It was not immediately clear who he was referring to as Israel does not have a deputy foreign minister.

Price also notes that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat on Sunday and says that calls between lower-level officials have also been taking place.

“We’ll always have a partner in the Israeli government,” he says.

The State Department spokesman says the US officials have also been speaking to their Palestinian counterparts, but does not identify the Palestinian officials, despite repeated requests. Asked at what level those talks with Palestinian officials have been, Price responds, “at the appropriate level,” hinting that the calls with Israeli officials have been between higher-ranking officials than those with Palestinian officials.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks at the State Department in Washington, March 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

The spokesman clarifies that the US has not been in contact with Hamas, which Washington designates as a terror organization.

He highlights “encouraging steps” taken in the last day by leadership from both sides, including the Israeli decisions to reroute the Jerusalem Day Flag Parade away from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and to delay a hearing on the looming eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. He also praises Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to cancel Ramadan celebrations in the West Bank on Monday night.

Price is pressed on whether he has seen photos of the Palestinian children killed in Gaza, reportedly in Israeli airstrikes.

“I’ve seen those pictures. It’s hard not to look at those pictures and feel a sense of the suffering,” he says solemnly. “It’s precisely why today we have called for restraint and de-escalation in an effort to preserve life.”

He also calls Hamas rocket attacks “horrific.”

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