United States asks Israel to pause 'war crimes' – but only during Joe Biden's visit

United States asks Israel to pause 'war crimes' – but only during Joe Biden's visit
Vice President Joe Biden speaks with U.S. and coalition personnel during a visit to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, March 7, 2016. Biden's visit is part of his tour of the Middle East, which began March 7. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kentavist P. Brackin).

The United States is asking Israel to refrain from certain violations of international law in Palestine during President Joe Biden's visit to the apartheid state next month, according to a report published Wednesday.

Axios reports U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Barbara Leaf has asked the Israeli government to stop evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem—actions condemned as ethnic cleansing by human rights advocates.

Leaf also asked Israel to not make any decisions on building or expanding its exclusively Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, and to reduce military operations in the West Bank, until after Biden's visit. Like the occupation, settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a form of apartheid, according to United Nations officials and human rights groups.

"The U.S. wants the visit to take place in a good atmosphere different than the one now," said Hussein al-Sheikh, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the official in charge of contact with the Biden administration. "If the Israelis don't stop their unilateral action the situation deteriorates and becomes much worse."

Officials In Israel confirmed Leaf's request. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata reportedly said they will try their best, while warning that domestic political considerations and military necessities will complicate their efforts.

"The Biden administration doesn't want us to create any crisis in the West Bank," one Israeli official told Axios' Barak Ravid. "They want quiet and calm."

In addition to Israel, Biden will visit the West Bank and Saudi Arabia on his July 13-16 trip.

Leaf's ask comes just over a month after Israel's highest court upheld orders for the destruction of eight Palestinian hamlets in the West Bank and Israeli authorities announced the advancement of nearly 4,000 new exclusively Jewish homes in 20 settlements.

The U.S. request also follows the killing of two Palestinian-Americans by Israeli forces: Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head while covering a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp last month, while 78-year-old Omar Assad died after being brutally detained during a vehicle check in Jiljilya in January.

During a March 2010 visit by then-Vice President Biden, Israel announced 1,600 new Jewish-only homes in East Jerusalem, a move Biden condemned as "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now."

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