Congress avows support of Israel

Measure calls for Hamas to stop its rocket fire and for innocent civilians to be protected.

US Congress 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
US Congress 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the second time in two days, Congress on Friday overwhelmingly backed a resolution supportive of Israel in its military campaign against Hamas. By a tally of 390-5, the US House of Representatives voted in favor a companion resolution to that passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on Thursday. The non-binding measure calls for Hamas to stop its rocket fire and for innocent civilians to be protected, while expressing "vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas's unceasing aggression, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter." Though the House declaration came on the heels of a UN Security Council resolution which itself called for an immediate halt to the violence, Congress instead called on the Bush administration to "support a durable and sustainable cease-fire in Gaza," language the US has been using to mean that conditions such as ending smuggling between Gaza and Egypt are in place rather than simply an immediate end to the fighting. The resolution, sponsored by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also urges countries around the world to "lay blame both for the breaking of the 'calm' and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also criticized Hamas for endangering Palestinian civilians Friday, telling the press that the densely populated coastal strip is "an area in which Hamas participates in activities like human shields and using buildings that are not designated as military buildings to hide their fighters." Referring to humanitarian aid efforts, she said, "It is very difficult in a circumstance like Gaza." At a Friday briefing on USAID efforts in Gaza, Howard Sumka, USAID mission director for the West Bank and Gaza, noted that his agency had reoriented all of its activities toward helping civilians in Gaza, including providing medicine, sheets for blown out windows and other supplies. He added that the US is relying entirely on UNRWA to get the goods from east Jerusalem into Gaza, and "the supply lines into Gaza have been slow... the number of trucks that have been able to get across the Kerem Shalom crossing has been not as high as we would have liked." Also on Friday, US President-Elect Barack Obama, who has been reluctant to made statements on issues of foreign policy before taking the oath of office on January 20, did relate to the issue of Iran when the subject came up at a press conference announcing his choices for CIA director, Leon Panetta, and Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair. Asked whether his national security team choices reflect a softening of America's position on Iran, Obama stressed that, "Iran is a genuine threat to US national security." But he added, "We should be willing to initiate diplomacy as a mechanism to achieve our national security goals." He described his national security team as reflective of a "practical, pragmatic approach" to foreign policy.