US President Joe Biden has pledged humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Gaza as he hailed a ceasefire deal to end 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas that tested his negotiating skills and exposed him to criticism from fellow Democrats.
Biden, appearing briefly at the White House after news of the ceasefire agreement, also promised to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, despite complaints from his Democratic colleagues about a pending US arms sale to Israel.
He said the US would work through the UN and other international stakeholders “to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people in Gaza and in the Gaza reconstruction efforts.”
He insisted that reconstruction aid would be provided in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and not with Hamas, which the US labels a terrorist organisation.
The Palestinian Authority, which is run by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, only governs parts of the occupied West Bank, however, while Hamas holds sway in the Gaza Strip.
“We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority — not Hamas — in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,” Biden said.
Biden on Friday said the Democratic Party still supported Israel and he was praying that the ceasefire between Israelis and Hamas would hold.
AID ARRIVES: Humanitarian aid began to enter the Israeli-blockaded enclave on Saturday ravaged by 11 days of aerial bombardment by the Israeli military.
As thousands of displaced Palestinians returned to their homes, international focus turned to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
In Jerusalem, however, Israeli police fired stun grenades on protesters at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Clashes also broke out in several other parts of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, and at the crossing point between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israeli police said, adding that hundreds of officers and border guards had been mobilised.
US President Joe Biden said he had told the Israelis to stop “inter-communal fighting” in Jerusalem, and pledged to help organise efforts to rebuild Gaza.
Meanwhile, convoys of lorries carrying aid began passing into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing after it was reopened by Israel, bringing much-needed medicine, food and fuel.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund said it had released $18.5 million for humanitarian efforts.
Tens of thousands of Gaza residents ventured out on Friday for the first time in days, checking on neighbours, examining devastated buildings, visiting the sea and burying their dead.
Rescuers there said they were working with meagre resources to reach any survivors still trapped under the rubble.
In total, Israeli air strikes have killed 248 people including 66 children since May 10, and wounded 1,948 others, the health ministry has said. Fighters are also among those killed.
Large areas have been flattened and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas, the group that rules Gaza.
The Israeli army said Gaza fighters fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, of which 90 per cent were intercepted by its air defences.
The rockets claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, a teenager and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, Israeli authorities say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.
“Our message to the enemy is clear — if you come back, we’ll come back too,” a spokesperson for the armed groups in Gaza said at a press conference, while Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz warned that “the enemy” had no immunity.
The violence began in Jerusalem, sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Its holy sites have sparked many of the worst episodes of violence in the region.
On May 10, an Israeli police attack on Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound prompted Hamas to launch rockets into the Jewish state.
Israel’s military responded with air strikes on what it described as military targets in Gaza — though Palestinian and international groups have accused it of recklessly hitting non-military sites in the densely populated strip.
Israel says it makes efforts to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes, but a majority of those killed by its bombardment were innocent civilians.
It blames Hamas for placing military sites in densely populated areas.