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Calls for Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire Intensify

As Biden’s team remains quiet at the United Nations, congressional leaders have begun speaking out.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Palestinian firefighters douse a fire in Gaza.
Palestinian firefighters douse a fire at the Foamco mattress factory following an Israeli airstrike east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 17. Mahmud Hams/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel continues Gaza bombing campaign amid cease-fire calls, Chile chooses its constitutional assembly, and Cyclone Tauktae approaches India.

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Israel-Gaza Conflict Enters Second Week

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel continues Gaza bombing campaign amid cease-fire calls, Chile chooses its constitutional assembly, and Cyclone Tauktae approaches India.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Israel-Gaza Conflict Enters Second Week

Gaza endured heavy Israeli bombing overnight as fighting enters its second week. The Israeli military says more than 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, killing at least 10 people, including two children. In Gaza, the death toll stands at 192 people with more than 50 children killed.

Among the dead in Sunday’s bombing raids were two prominent Palestinian physicians whose deaths, along with reports of damaged medical facilities, have raised concerns of an ensuing health crisis. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, the head of coronavirus response at Gaza’s largest hospital, was reportedly killed on Sunday along with Moein Ahmad al-Aloul, one of the few neurologists in the territory. Al-Aloul’s five children died with him.

Speaking on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign in Gaza would “continue as long as necessary.” But reports from Israeli news site Walla! on Sunday reported on possible cease-fire talks, mediated by Egypt, in light of the Israeli military’s successes in targeting Hamas and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

As the conflict drags on, calls for a cease-fire have increased. The 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation called on Israel to halt its attacks in Gaza and demanded intervention from the United Nations Security Council. Representatives from Turkey and Iran chided recent normalization agreements signed by Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates as enabling Israel’s behavior. “The massacre of Palestinian children today follows the purported normalization,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

Red, white, and blocked. At the United Nations, the United States continues to block a U.N. Security Council call for a cease-fire; 14 of the 15 council members backed a statement on Sunday—introduced by China, Norway, and Tunisia—condemning both Israel and Hamas for ongoing violence and calling for an immediate cease-fire. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said her country is still “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to halt hostilities.

Congressional calls. Despite the Biden administration’s inertia, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are raising their voices. Two senators on the Committee on Foreign Relations, Chris Murphy, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican, issued a joint statement on Sunday encouraging a cease-fire. It followed a similar joint statement by 28 out of the 50 sitting Democratic Senators urging an “immediate cease-fire.”

Israel’s aftermath. In Israel, the aftermath of days of violence in mixed Arab-Israeli towns has led to a one-sided reaction from state prosecutors: Of the 116 indictments served so far against those arrested last week, all have been against Arab-Israeli citizens, Haaretz reported. Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party’s chances of forming a coalition government has crumbled since the violence broke out, placed the blame on Netanyahu. If he was in charge, Lapid said on Sunday, no one would have to question “why the fire always breaks out precisely when it’s most convenient for the prime minister.”

Speaking to CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Netanyahu rejected the assertion he is continuing the bombing campaign to stay in power as “preposterous” and “hogwash.” “I’ll do what I have to do to protect the lives of Israeli citizens and to restore peace,” he said.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, May 18, EU foreign ministers hold an emergency teleconference on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, convened by EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell.

On Thursday, May 20, the Arctic Council ministerial meeting takes place between the eight circumpolar nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States as well as groups representing Indigenous peoples. A bilateral meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken could take place on the sidelines.

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble holds talks with regional leaders on future national elections.

On Friday, May 21, U.S. President Joe Biden hosts South Korean President Moon Jae-in for in-person talks at the White House.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen co-host the G-20 Global Health Summit.

On Sunday, May 23, Vietnam holds elections for its National Assembly, with all candidates representing the Vietnamese Communist Party.

An extended period allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct snap inspections on Iranian nuclear facilities ends.

What Were Watching

Blinken heads north. Blinken is in Denmark today to begin a weeklong tour of Nordic nations, which includes a meeting of the Arctic Council in Iceland and a stop in Greenland. In Denmark, Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. Later in the week, Blinken is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Lavrov.

Chile’s constitution. With roughly 90 percent of votes counted, Chile’s ruling center-right coalition looks to have suffered a surprise loss in elections to choose a 155-person body to rewrite the country’s constitution. Independents, with 45 seats, will hold the most sway in the constitutional assembly, where new proposals need approval by a two-thirds majority. The ruling Chile Vamos coalition won 39 seats while center-left and far-left candidates won 25 and 28 seats respectively.

Afghanistan cease-fire ends. Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces recommenced on Sunday following a three-day cease-fire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The Taliban attacked a number of government checkpoints in Helmand province, the regional government said, adding 21 Taliban fighters were killed. The clashes took place as peace negotiations resumed in Doha over the weekend.

Gujarats storm. Cyclone Tauktae, the strongest storm to hit the region in more than two decades, is expected to make landfall in the Indian state of Gujarat today, potentially adding more strain to an already overwhelmed health system. More than 150,000 people have been moved from low-lying areas to shelters, prompting fears of further COVID-19 transmission. At least six people have already died in the heavy rains brought by Tauktae.

Keep an Eye On

Irans presidential race. Two main contenders for Iran’s June 18 presidential election signed on as candidates on Saturday as registration closed. Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary and a losing candidate to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, joined the race along with former Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. The registered candidates, which include former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will now be assessed by the 12-member Guardian Council before their candidacies are approved.

COVAX supplies. COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), the World Health Organization-backed initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, is 140 million doses short of its distribution goals as exports from India’s Serum Institute have ground to a halt since cases exploded there in March. The U.N. Children’s Emergency Fund, the U.N. body responsible for purchasing vaccines for COVAX, has called on G-7 and EU nations to make up the shortfall, calculating that countries could share 153 million doses and still meet their domestic vaccination commitments.

Odds and Ends

Buzzfeed News reporters found Biden’s Venmo account “after less than 10 minutes of looking for it,” raising concerns about digital security and privacy for general users of the peer-to-peer money exchanging app. The potential vulnerability was discovered after a New York Times profile mentioned the president sends money to his grandchildren using the app.

“For one of the most heavily guarded individuals in the world, a publicly available Venmo account and friend list is a massive security hole. Even a small friend list is still enough to paint a pretty reliable picture of someones habits, routines, and social circles,” Gennie Gebhart of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Buzzfeed. Although the White House has yet to comment, it already appears to have taken action: As of Friday night, Biden’s account no longer appears on searches within the app.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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