ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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New US House speaker kicks off term with resolution backing Israel, condemning Hamas

Louisiana congressman Mike Johnson says non-binding declaration was ‘overdue,’ as tougher fight over military aid awaits; nine Democrats and one Republican oppose measure

Rep. Mike Johnson, Republican-Louisiana, takes the oath to be the new House speaker at the Capitol in Washington, October 25, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Rep. Mike Johnson, Republican-Louisiana, takes the oath to be the new House speaker at the Capitol in Washington, October 25, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP)

WASHINGTON — The new Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives began his job late Wednesday by introducing a resolution supporting Israel in its conflict with Hamas terrorists.

“The first bill that I’m going to bring to this floor in just a little while will be in support of our dear, dear friend Israel, and we’re overdue in getting that done,” Louisiana congressman Mike Johnson said in his acceptance speech, warning that America’s “greatest ally in the Middle East is under attack.”

The non-binding resolution declares the House “stands with Israel” and “condemns Hamas’ brutal war.” It calls on Hamas to immediately end attacks and release all hostages.

War broke out on October 7 when some 2,500 Hamas gunmen broke into southern Israel, killing some 1,400 people, most of them civilians, maiming thousands more and taking at least 224 hostages into Gaza.

Israel has responded with intensive strikes on Gaza aimed to destroy Hamas and is readying a widescale ground campaign. US President Joe Biden’s administration has promised military support to Israel, but had called on Congress to pass legislation ensuring that funds for its ally do not dry up.

The resolution, which does not include funding for Israel’s military needs, passed 412 to 10, with six Democrat members voting “present.”

Nine of those who voted against were Democrats. The lawmakers said they opposed the resolution because it did not mention Palestinians who have been killed, Reuters reported. One Republican was also against the resolution.

A picture taken from the southern Israeli city of Sderot shows rockets fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 23, 2023 (Jack Guez / AFP)

Israel says it is targeting terror infrastructure while trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Thousands are believed to have been killed, but the figures issued by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry cannot be independently verified. They are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen killed in Israel and in Gaza as well as the victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad missile, aimed at Israel, that misfired.

Biden called to congratulate the new speaker and said it’s “time for all of us to act responsibly” with challenges ahead to fund the government and provide aid for Ukraine and Israel.

“We need to move swiftly,” the president said in a statement.

The federal government risks a shutdown in a matter of weeks if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by a November 17 deadline to keep services and offices running. More immediately, Biden has asked Congress to provide $105 billion in aid — to help Israel and Ukraine amid their wars and to shore up the US border with Mexico. Federal aviation and farming programs face expiration without action.

Johnson, 51, of Louisiana, swept through on the first ballot with support from all Republicans anxious to put the past weeks of tumult behind and get on with the business of governing. He was quickly sworn into office, second in line to the presidency.

His elevation ended weeks of bitter Republican infighting that paralyzed Congress at a time of international and domestic crisis.

Johnson will be the least experienced speaker in the post Civil War era, having never chaired a committee or held a senior leadership role.

He will also be expected to lead his deeply fractured conference through upcoming fights over funding for Ukraine and Israel.

An IDF Merkava battle tank moves along the border with the Gaza Strip by the southern city of Sderot on October 18, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Johnson visited Israel in a 2020 trip sponsored by 12Tribe Films Foundation, which is run by a settler activist, the Haaretz daily reported.

During the trip, the evangelical Christian lawmaker met with leaders of the Kohelet Policy Forum, which helped draft the legislation for the judicial overhaul.

He also visited the Temple Mount with Yehudah Glick, a former Likud MK who backs Jewish prayer at the flashpoint site.

“The people’s House is back in business,” Johnson declared after taking the gavel.

A lower-ranked member of the House GOP leadership team, Johnson emerged as the fourth Republican nominee in what had become an almost absurd cycle of political infighting since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as GOP factions jockeyed for power. While not the party’s top choice for the gavel, the deeply religious and even-keeled Johnson has few foes and an important GOP backer: Donald Trump.

“I think he’s gonna be a fantastic speaker,” Trump said Wednesday at the New York courthouse where the former president, who is now the Republican front-runner for president in 2024, is on trial over a lawsuit alleging business fraud.

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