As fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas
rulers entered its second week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
signaled Monday that the US would not join calls for an immediate cease-fire, despite the fact that more than 200 people
had died, the vast majority of whom were Palestinians
Blinken's stance comes despite mounting pressure from the United States' U.N. Security Council partners, as well as some Democrats
and others, for President Joe Biden
's administration and other international leaders to engage more deeply in diplomacy to end the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years and resurrect long-collapsed mediation for a lasting peace in the region.
Speaking in Copenhagen, where Blinken is on an unrelated tour of Nordic countries this week, Blinken outlined U.S. efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Gaza Strip
and Israel, and said he would make more calls on Monday.
“In all of these engagements, we have made it clear that we are willing to lend our support and good offices to the parties if they seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said.
He praised efforts by the United Nations
— where the United States has so far blocked a proposed Security Council statement on the fighting — and other countries seeking a cease-fire.
“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we will support,” he said, “and we are once again willing and ready to do so,” he added, “but ultimately it is up to the parties to make it clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire.”
As fighting between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers reached new highs, the Biden administration
— determined to shift the United States' foreign policy
focus away from the Middle East
— has so far declined to condemn Israel's role in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region.
Pulling back from Middle East diplomacy to focus on other policy priorities, such as Biden's emphasis on dealing with China
's rise, carries political risk for the administration in either case, including dealing with any blame when violence flares as the US withdraws from conflict zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
According to the Gaza Health
Ministry, at least 200 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes as of Monday, including 59 children
and 35 women, with 1,300 people injured; eight Israelis, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in rocket
attacks launched from Gaza.
Blinken also stated that he had asked Israel for evidence to back up its claim that Hamas was operating in a Gaza office building that housed The Associated Press
and Al Jazeera
news bureaus and was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike over the weekend, but he has “not seen any information provided.”
Blinken's remarks came after U.N. Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened for an emergency weekend meeting to demand an end to civilian casualties, as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attack in the week of fighting on Sunday.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden's ambassador to the UN, told an emergency high-level Security Council meeting on Sunday that the US was "working tirelessly through diplomatic channels" to end the fighting.
She warned that returning to armed conflict would only push a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict
even further away.
However, the United States, Israel's closest ally, has thus far rejected moves in the Security Council by China, Norway, and Tunisia for a Security Council statement, including a call for a cessation of hostilities.
Hady Amr, a deputy assistant sent by Blinken to de-escalate the crisis, met with officials in Israel, but Blinken has no plans to stop in the Middle East on his current trip.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, urged Biden on Sunday to increase pressure on both sides to end the current fighting and restart negotiations to resolve Israel's conflicts and flashpoints with the Palestinians.
“I think the administration needs to press Israel and the Palestinian Authority harder to stop the violence, bring about a cease-fire, end these hostilities, and get back to the process of trying to resolve this long-standing conflict,” Schiff, a California
Democrat, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, the senior Republican
on the region's foreign relations subcommittee, joined Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the subcommittee chairman, in urging both sides to cease fire, while Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia
joined 26 other Democratic senators and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
, an independent, in urging an immediate cease-fire to prevent further civilian casualties.
In a call with Netanyahu on Saturday, Biden focused on civilian deaths from Hamas rockets, and a White House
readout of the call made no mention of the US urging Israel to join a regionally pushed cease-fire. Thomas-Greenfield said US diplomats were engaging with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar, as well as the United Nations.
In a televised address Sunday, Netanyahu told Israelis that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas, but that it will “take time,” implying that the war will continue for the time being.
Representatives from Muslim countries met on Sunday to demand that Israel halt its attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
During the Security Council's virtual meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the UN was actively engaging all parties in a cease-fire.
Returning to the scenes of Palestinian militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes
in the fourth such conflict between Israel and Hamas “only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction, and despair, and pushes any hopes of coexistence and peace further to the horizon,” Guterres said.
At the Security Council meeting, eight foreign ministers spoke, reflecting the gravity of the conflict, with nearly all urging an end to the fighting.
Knickmeyer contributed reporting from Oklahoma
City, Lee from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Lederer from New York, with help from Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Lisa Mascaro in Washington.