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Biden Expresses ‘Support for Cease-Fire’ in Gaza
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden expresses his support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, COVID-19 cases cross the 25 million mark in India, and the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military.
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Fighting Continues as Palestinians Go on Strike
Fighting between Hamas and the Israeli military continued on Tuesday morning despite renewed calls for a cease-fire. The Israeli military bombed 65 targets overnight while 90 rockets were launched from Gaza.
As casualty reports trickle in, Gaza’s infrastructure continues to suffer under heavy assault: Gaza’s sole COVID-19 testing lab is no longer operational after the clinic it was housed in was partially destroyed by Israeli bombs on Monday.
Europe convenes. An emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers convenes today to discuss the ongoing violence. The meeting was called by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell due to what he said was the “unacceptable number of civilian casualties.” The European Parliament is also scheduled to debate the issue.
Palestinians rally. Palestinians across Israel and the West Bank take part in a general strike today to protest the continued bombardment. In a show of unity, the action has been supported by Fatah and the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel.
The C word. According to a White House readout of a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden moved beyond calls for restraint and “expressed his support for a cease-fire,” the first time the Biden administration has used the word since Hamas and Israel began the latest round of fighting. The expression was explicitly not a demand, an administration official said, as the Biden administration continues its conciliatory public approach to Israel alongside what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has called “quiet, intensive diplomacy.”
Biden’s careful wording contrasts with moves within his own party to create leverage. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is expected to request the Biden administration delay a $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a fellow committee member, said the sale would “be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a cease-fire.”
What We’re Following Today
India’s COVID-19 toll. India’s total reported coronavirus cases crossed the 25 million mark on Tuesday, making it only the second country, after the United States, to record so many cases. The milestone comes as the country also reported its highest one day death toll: 4,329 deaths from the virus. Although the number of new recorded daily cases dropped below 300,000 for the first time since April 21, it may not point to a downward trend. World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan has warned India’s high testing positivity rate—around 20 percent—is a warning that the worst has not passed, especially because some parts of the country lack the infrastructure for mass testing.
Myanmar sanctions. The United States, United Kingdom, and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions on Myanmar’s ruling junta on Monday in the latest attempt to pressure the country’s military leadership. In announcing the sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said political and financial pressure on the junta would continue “as long as it fails to stop violence and take meaningful action to respect the will of the people.”
The United Nations General Assembly was due to vote today on a draft resolution calling “for an immediate suspension of the direct and indirect supply, sale, or transfer of all weapons and munitions” to Myanmar, but the move has now been delayed. More than 800 people have been killed since Myanmar’s Feb. 1 coup, the activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported on Monday.
Armenia-Azerbaijan tensions. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke separately with both Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Monday in a bid to cool tensions after Armenia accused Azerbaijani troops of invading its territory last week. Sullivan said “military movements near un-demarcated borders are irresponsible and provocative” and called on both sides to “conduct formal discussions to demarcate their international border.”
Keep an Eye On
Vaccine diplomacy. Biden has announced the United States would share an extra 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with other countries, adding to the 60 million doses already promised from the country’s AstraZeneca stockpile. The additional doses will come from U.S. stocks of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, marking the first time U.S.-approved vaccines will be shared overseas. Taking a swipe at Russia and China, Biden said, “we will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries.” The Biden administration has yet to announce where it will send its excess vaccines.
War in Tigray. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the situation in his native Tigray as “horrific” on Monday as the conflict enters its seventh month. Roughly 5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, Tedros said, adding that sexual violence is “rampant.” On Friday, the European Union condemned the Ethiopian government for using “humanitarian aid as a weapon of war” as it continues to block aid to the region. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry has denied any problems with aid access.
A thaw in France-Rwanda ties. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said a French report from March concluding the country had a “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for the 1994 Rwandan genocide was “a big step forward” during a visit to Paris on Monday. Kagame’s remarks may represent a turning point in relations between the two countries as French President Emmanuel Macron, who commissioned the report, works to confront Paris’s role in the genocide, which has been criticized for decades. Macron is set to visit Rwanda later in May.
Although the nearly 1,000-page French report stopped short of accusing Paris of being complicit in the massacres, Rwanda’s report, released a month later, blamed France for its knowledge of preparations for the killings. Despite such discrepancies that have arisen as both countries work to create a shared history of the event, Kagame said the groundwork has been laid for better relations and “when you talk about overwhelming responsibility … that means a lot.”
Odds and Ends
The number of divorces in China dropped 70 percent in the first quarter of 2021, according to data published by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs. Marital bliss is unlikely the reason for the decrease, however. On Jan. 1, China introduced a “cooling off” period, making couples wait 30 days before finalizing their decision, with the petition voided if couples fail to show up for two appointments between 30 and 60 days after applying. Chinese media reported couples having difficulties finding appointments in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and other cities, which is likely to have contributed to the dramatic drop.