ADDS NETANYAHU CALL READOUT IN GRAFS 9-10
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that he is sending a top diplomat to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to de-escalate soaring violence.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr is headed to the region immediately to meet with leaders and "will bring to bear his decades of experience" working on the conflict, Blinken told reporters while rolling out the department's annual religious freedoms report.
"In particular he will urge on my behalf, and on behalf of President [Joe] Biden de-escalation of violence. We are very focused on this," said Blinken. "We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security, and we’ll continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm.”
Heavy bombardment in the Gaza Strip continued early Wednesday as Israeli forces carried out raids at various locations.
The Gaza Health Ministry reported 56 deaths, including 14 children and more than 330 wounded. Heavy damage to residential areas across Gaza has also been recorded, including the destruction of multiple multi-story residential buildings.
The Israeli military said 1,500 rockets have been fired from Gaza toward locations in Israel in which six Israelis have been killed and dozens injured.
Blinken further called on Israel to take additional measures to avoid civilian casualties, saying it has an "extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people."
"There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response defending itself that is targeting the terrorist who are raining down rockets on Israel. But whenever we see civilian casualties, and particularly when we see children caught in the crossfire, losing their lives, that has a powerful impact," he said.
During a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken "expressed his concerns regarding the barrage of rocket attacks on Israel, his condolences for the lives lost as a result, and the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself," the State Department said in a statement.
"The Secretary and the Prime Minister discussed the ongoing violence in Jerusalem, and the Secretary reiterated his call on all parties to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence," spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.