Biden acknowledges 'pain' of Arab Americans over war in Gaza

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden visits Raleigh, North Carolina

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Joe Biden on Friday acknowledged "the pain being felt" by many Arab Americans over the war in Gaza and over U.S. support of Israel and its military offensive that has left Arabs, Muslims and anti-war activists angry and disappointed.

Many Muslims and Arabs in the United States have urged the Democratic president to call for a permanent ceasefire, stop the sale of weapons to Israel and use more leverage to protect civilian lives as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Gaza.

"We must also pause to reflect on the pain being felt by so many in the Arab American community with the war in Gaza," Biden said in a proclamation on Arab American Heritage Month released by the White House, adding he was "devastated" by the suffering.

However, hours after Biden's Friday statement, the Washington Post reported that his government had signed off on additional bombs and warplanes for Israel in recent days worth billions of dollars.

Israel is the leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and the U.S. vetoed multiple votes at the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza assault, before abstaining from a vote in late March.

The Biden administration has issued proclamations since 2021 ahead of April, which is observed as Arab American Heritage Month. This year's proclamation was longer than previous ones due to Biden's comments on Gaza.

Protests demanding a ceasefire in Gaza have occurred in many U.S. cities in recent months, including near airports and bridges in New York City and Los Angeles, vigils outside the White House and marches in Washington.

Demonstrators have regularly interrupted Biden's campaign events and speeches, including a high profile fundraiser in New York City on Thursday.

They have asked Biden to meet their demands or risk losing their support in November's election. Arab and Muslim Americans are unlikely to back Biden's rival, Republican former President Donald Trump, but observers note they could sit out the election and deny Biden crucial votes. They had overwhelmingly supported Biden in 2020.

Biden said on Friday he was working to increase humanitarian aid into Gaza, free hostages taken by Hamas and establish an immediate ceasefire lasting at least six weeks.

Biden also said Arab Americans have been a target of hate crimes while noting the fatal October stabbing of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al-Fayoume in Illinois, the November shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont, and the February stabbing of a Palestinian American man in Texas.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies. Israel's subsequent military assault on Hamas-governed Gaza has killed over 32,000 people, according to the local health ministry, displaced nearly all of its 2.3 million population, put the enclave on the brink of starvation and led to accusations of genocide that Israel denies.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot)