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Liberal Democrats launch late push to block Israel arms sale

The move comes as President Joe Biden has faced increasing bipartisan pressure to help broker an end to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Biden administration approved the weapons sale from Boeing to Israel this month, before violence broke out in the region.Ilia Yefimovich / Picture Alliance via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A group of progressive Democratic lawmakers are moving to block the sale of $735 million of U.S. precision-guided weapons to Israel, as President Joe Biden faces growing pressure from his party to take a tougher approach to the conflict in Gaza and to explicitly call for a cease-fire.

The Biden administration approved the weapons sale from Boeing, a U.S. company, to Israel this month before violence broke out in the Gaza Strip at a level not seen since 2014.

Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are leading the resolution to block the sale.

“The U.S. has long sold the Israeli government billions of dollars in weaponry without placing any conditions regarding the human rights of Palestinians. In so doing, we have directly contributed to the death, displacement and disenfranchisement of millions,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement Wednesday.

“At a time when so many, including President Biden, support a cease-fire, we should not be sending ‘direct attack’ weaponry to Prime Minister Netanyahu to prolong this violence," she added.

The resolution is unlikely to advance in the House. Once the president notifies Congress of an intended weapons sale, lawmakers have 15 days to review. That time period is set to expire on Thursday.

In the Senate, there are dueling resolutions between Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Wednesday said he would seek to block a Republican resolution in support of Israel, which his office called "destructive," and offer an alternative in its place that calls for the Senate to support an immediate cease-fire.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expected a “significant de-escalation” on a path toward a cease-fire as violence gripped the region.

The language in the statement was some of the strongest yet from the White House in urging an end to the conflict.

The call, which Biden made before leaving for a Coast Guard commencement ceremony, was the fourth between the two leaders as Biden has been under increasing pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to help broker an end to the fighting. Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, have been exchanging airstrikes and rocket attacks for more than a week.

“The United States is working tirelessly, through various levels of government, to express support for a cease-fire, get to a place of sustainable calm, and build a path forward to addressing the underlying causes of the conflict,” deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday.

Jean-Pierre said the two leaders also discussed the “Israelis’ progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States.”

The call came after Netanyahu reiterated in a post on Twitter on Tuesday that Israel's attacks "will continue for as long as it takes to restore calm" for all of its citizens.

The White House has had over 60 calls in the past week between senior administration officials and senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and across the region.

“We will continue to remain deeply engaged in intensive, quiet diplomacy to hold the current violence, and find a way forward,” Jean-Pierre said.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted that he spoke with Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and the Egyptian officials Wednesday.

"The United States is engaged in intensive diplomacy and our efforts will continue," Sullivan said.

Biden last spoke to Netanyahu on Monday in a call that was more tense than their previous talks, three people familiar with the matter tell NBC News. One source told NBC News that there was no firm timeline given but that there was a strong sense of urgency. In the call Monday, the White House said Biden expressed support for a cease-fire, but stopped short of saying he was calling for one.

Overnight into Wednesday, more than 50 Israeli warplanes fired 120 guided missiles on Gaza, targeting the "metro" tunnel system used by Hamas. At least 219 Palestinians including 63 children have been killed in the Israeli strikes since May 10, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Hamas, which is labeled a terror group by Israel and the U.S., launched more rockets into Israel, firing around 50 more in the past 24 hours and bringing the total to 3,750 rockets in the past week, according to the Israeli military.