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Netanyahu is ‘giving Biden the finger’ and the US is sending more bombs, Senator says

The Biden administration is facing growing doubts regarding President Joe Biden’s ability to influence his counterpart in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, into pursuing a path that minimises civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, Senator Chris Van Hollen voiced those doubts on ABC’s This Week. The Democrat from Maryland, whose state is to be visited by the president in the coming days as it reels from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, explained that the Israeli prime minister was giving the US president “the finger” when it came to the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza and its reported planned offensive in Rafah. Millions of refugees have fled to the city from fighting further north, and it is now packed with civilians.

He lashed out at the continued no-strings-attached policy of US arms supplies to the Israeli government as well, though notably, he did not cast a vote against a supplemental aid package combining both military assistance for Israel and Ukraine in February.

“Netanyahu continues to essentially give the finger to the president of the United States and we’re sending more bombs,” Mr Van Hollen said on Sunday.

He said that Israel’s “right” and “duty” to defend itself after the 7 October attack did not “extend to restricting, unnecessarily, assistance in Gaza”.

“Certainly, you could halt the horror of this humanitarian catastrophe,” the senator continued.

The Maryland senator joined the entirety of the Democratic caucus in the US Senate — with the exception of Bernie Sanders — in voting for a $95bn supplemental assistance package for Ukraine and Israel in February. But at the time, he called on the president to hold Mr Netanyahu’s government “more accountable for its actions” and claimed that the prime minister had “mostly ignored his requests” thus far.

His latest criticism comes on the heels of the Biden administration partially backing down on sanctions against far-right settlers in Israel accused of violent attacks on Palestinians and illegal land seizures; a letter from the US Treasury Department clarified that Israeli banks were not required to freeze the accounts of sanctioned individuals in order to do business with the US.

The sanctions infuriated members of Mr Netanyahu’s far-right coalition including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Mr Smotrich, who has been accused of racist language and has denied the existence of a Palestinian people, pledged to take retaliatory action aimed at the economies of the West Bank and Gaza in response to the US measures.

The Israeli military assault in Gaza has so far led to the deaths of more than 31,000 people, including thousands of children. International aid groups are now warning that a humanitarian disaster is taking place across the territory including the potential breakout of a full-scale famine.