US President Joe Biden expresses "strong support" for Israel's strikes in besieged Gaza but raises concerns about civilian casualties and protection of journalists.

Israeli forces' flares light up the sky in Rafah in southern Gaza, on May 16, 2021
Israeli forces' flares light up the sky in Rafah in southern Gaza, on May 16, 2021 (AFP)

US President Joe Biden, in a phone call with leadership of Palestine and Israel has expressed his "grave concern" after Israel continued unleashing its military power in besieged Gaza and occupied West Bank.  

Speaking on the sixth day of a paroxysm of Israeli violence on Palestine that has left some 147 dead and hundreds wounded, Biden repeated his "strong support" for Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups.

But he also raised concerns about the safety of journalists after Israeli planes flattened a building in Gaza housing The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets, according to Saturday's statement by White House.

Biden told Palestinian leader Abbas that Hamas must stop rocket attacks on Israel, the White House said.

Biden also "underscored his strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

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At least 145 killed in Gaza 

Biden's call to both Mideast leaders came as Gaza's Health Ministry gave a new death toll from six-day Israeli attacks in the Palestinian enclave.

It said Israeli attacks on Gaza killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children and 23 women, while wounding 1,100 others since May 10. 

The Hamas group continued a stream of rocket volleys into Israel, and one man was killed when a rocket hit his home in a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow 10 ambulances to transport Palestinians seriously wounded to Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.

A summary of the call released by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Biden said he opposes the expulsion of Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah, though the White House account of the conversation did not mention the case.

A long-running legal case over the expulsions ignited tension in the holy city and spark attacks on Palestinians by Israeli forces and illegal settlers, ultimately leading to bombardment of Gaza and reprisal rocket attacks. 

Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) has limited-self rule in the occupied West Bank, part of territory Israel captured, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, in the 1967 Middle East war.

But the PA exerts little influence over Gaza and Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007.

The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, and does not talk to the group.

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Hamas forced to act

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, blaming Hamas for starting nearly a week of hostilities by firing rockets at Israel, said Israel will continue to strike in Gaza as long as necessary and do its utmost to avoid civilian casualties.

"The party that bears the guilt for this confrontation is not us, it's those attacking us," Netanyahu said in a televised speech. "We are still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary."

Some analysts say Hamas was forced to act because marginalise Abbas and his PA couldn't halt possible expulsions and attacks on unarmed Palestinians in Al Aqsa. 

Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem have been calling on Hamas to retaliate after Israel attacked unarmed worshippers in Al Aqsa Mosque, Palestinian academic Azzam Tamimi told TRT World.

 "The Israelis were being called upon by Palestinians and international community to stop provoking and attacking worshippers," he said, adding that PM Netanyahu continued to pursue violence for his own political interest. 

"Palestinians resistance groups in Gaza had no choice. That was, as far as they are concerned, their national Islamic duty. Al Aqsa is not just any place in the world, it's the third holiest mosque on the face of the earth," Tamimi said.

READ MORE: Israel bombs tower housing foreign media, kills 10 members of Gaza family

Ismail Haniyeh tells rally fighters won't retreat

On Saturday, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch. There was no immediate report on al Hayeh’s fate or on any casualties.

Meanwhile, a top Hamas leader said resistance groups in Gaza will not retreat in the face of attacks by Israeli troops, warning that their fighters still haven't used all their force at their disposal.

Ismail Haniyeh spoke during a rally attended by hundreds in the gas-rich nation of Qatar on Saturday night. 

He said that "resistance is the shortest road to Jerusalem" and that Palestinians will not accept anything less than a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

He added that "the Zionist enemy struck Gaza, flattened towers and carried out massacres," thinking that this will make resistance groups retreat. 

He said that as the Israeli attacks escalate, "the resistance will increase (its force) to a higher level."

Haniyeh also said that despite the fact that Gaza has been under siege for nearly 15 years, resistance groups will not retreat.

UN chief 'dismayed' by Israel strikes on Gaza

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "dismayed" by civilian casualties in Gaza and "deeply disturbed" by Israel's strike on the building containing international media outlets, a spokesman said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General is dismayed by the increasing number of civilian casualties, including the death of ten members of the same family, including children, as a result of an Israeli air strike last night in the al Shati camp in Gaza, purportedly aimed at a Hamas leader," his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in the statement.

Guterres was "also deeply disturbed by the destruction by an Israeli air strike today of a high-rise building in Gaza that housed the offices of several international media organizations as well as residential apartments," Dujarric continued.

"The Secretary-General reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs," he said.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies