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Biden’s closest allies are increasing pressure on the White House to do more to alleviate suffering in Gaza

WASHINGTON (AP) — More from the president Joe BidenThe Senate’s key allies are demanding that the US act directly to ease the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza and join calls to cut military aid if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to change course.

Dissent from independent Senator Bernie Sanders and a small group of progressive Democrats has increased in response to the rising death toll in Gaza. Now even Biden’s closest confidante in Congress, Chris Coonssays it’s time to get tougher on Netanyahu’s government over the way it is waging the war.

Israel still enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, and the prospect of reduced military aid is uncertain, despite the influence these more mainstream Democrats wield. But the tensions could become clear on Thursday when Biden speaks about the conflict in his State of the Union address to Congress.

The war in Gaza is not the only issue in the Middle East causing division within the party. Some Democrats are pursuing legislation to force the administration to seek congressional authorization to continue military strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, setting up a possible showdown over the authority to wage war. The Houthis are attacking shipping in the Red Sea in what they say is a show of support for the Palestinians during the nearly five-month war in Gaza.

Yet the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Democratic caucus as a whole have largely refrained from taking action on America’s role in the Middle East conflicts. That’s despite growing concern — and increasing political opposition at the national level, especially among Muslim and Arab American voters — over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza, and over Netanyahu’s alleged shrugging off of U.S. demands for more to spare and allow Palestinian civilians to enter. more help.

Democrats in Congress are reluctant to be seen as a challenge to the Democratic president’s handling of the conflict, recognizing that criticism could further weaken Biden in his struggling re-election campaign against former President Donald Trump.

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The killing of more than a hundred Palestinians last week during a rare food delivery has prompted more Biden allies in the Senate to speak out. Israel says its forces fired warning shots amid the aid chaos. Witnesses and medical workers told The Associated Press that many of the victims were shot when Israeli forces fired into crowds of hungry people.

In recent days alone, Coons, a senator from Biden’s home state of Delaware, called on the US to cut military aid to Israel if Netanyahu goes ahead with a threatened offensive on the southern city of Rafah without significant facilities to accommodate the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there . Senator Jack Reed, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on Biden to deploy the US Navy to get humanitarian aid to Gaza. Biden ally Senator Tim Kaine disputed the US strikes on the Houthis as unlikely to stop attacks on the Red Sea. And the top Democrat in the Senate called on Israel to “change course.”

“Israel must understand that the casualties they have inflicted on the people of Gaza – the devastation they have caused – cannot continue,” Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate pro tempore, said in a blistering speech on the floor. “It is not consistent with American interests, nor does it make Israel safer.”

Continuing US military support to Israel at current levels “will become untenable if Israel shows that it is not willing to listen to us,” Coons told cable networks after the killings during the failed aid distribution.

The National Security Council pointed to Biden’s own warnings about the looming Rafah offensive and support for a possible sea route to deliver aid. It did not answer questions about whether the administration has changed its opposition to cutting military aid to Israel or seeking congressional authorization for its attacks on the Houthis.

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Lawmakers have sent at least a half-dozen letters to the government since the start of the year calling for changes in the conduct of the war. The government said this week it is actively exploring a possibility, pushed by Reed, to open a sea route for humanitarian aid. The US began airstrikes on civilians in Gaza last week, bypassing Israeli restrictions that blocked much of the land aid delivery.

Biden’s allies in Congress are trying to send the message that Netanyahu’s war-making is not in the U.S. interest, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. Biden and top aides have privately and publicly called on Israel for greater precision in airstrikes and drone strikes that have killed entire families in crowded neighborhoods. Netanyahu has also publicly ruled out the US goal of an eventual Palestinian state.

“The conversations between senators and the White House have been robust and candid” about the war and Netanyahu, Warren told the AP. “We would not be serving our president if we did anything differently.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not drafted any legislation related to the region since the war began. And just this past week, the panel held hearings on the growing conflicts in the Middle East. Two congressional aides, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings, said its chairman, Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, told the committee late last year that there would be no legislation related to the Middle East be implemented until the war in Gaza is over.

Another congressional aide familiar with the discussions said that in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, Cardin urged caution in taking immediate legislative action that would negatively impact Israeli efforts on the ground.

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In a statement to the AP, Eric Harris, a spokesman for the committee, did not respond directly to a question about the lack of legislative action but said the committee “remains actively engaged in conducting oversight of Middle East policy, including ongoing conflict in Gaza, the humanitarian crisis and efforts to free hostages kidnapped by Hamas – including American hostages.”

The committee cited secret bipartisan briefings it held, meetings with heads of state and other influential figures, and other key policy advocates for Cardin, including his leadership in confirming Jacob Lew as US ambassador to Israel.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has sent bipartisan bills on the Middle East, including many that would target Iranian officials over Iran’s support for Hamas, the Houthis and other armed groups that have stepped up attacks on the Middle East. American and other targets.

Notably, on the Senate side, it was a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, rather than the full committee, that convened two senior Biden administration officials to answer questions about the strikes to try to stem the Houthi attacks on suppress international shipping routes.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who led the session, later said he was working to rally support from other senators for legislation to force the administration to seek congressional approval to continue the strikes, in accordance with his reading of the War Powers Act. .

Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, suggested that only an end to the fighting in Gaza could calm the region.

“US involvement in another war in the Middle East would reflect the fact that we have learned virtually nothing in the past 25 years,” Kaine said of the US attacks on Houthis. “This is something that could lead us to a war.”

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