Israel denies Netanyahu to address US Congress over Jewish holiday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has stressed the war would continue until all of Israel's 'goals are achieved' (Brendan Smialowski)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has stressed the war would continue until all of Israel's 'goals are achieved' (Brendan Smialowski)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Tuesday denied American media reports that he will address the US Congress on June 13, amid mounting pressure to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas.

Netanyahu's office told Israeli media the date of his speech to Congress had "not been finalised", but it would not be on June 13 because it interferes with a Jewish holiday.

The date had been reported by Punchbowl News and Politico.

Speculation about the visit comes with Netanyahu facing intense criticism over the civilian death toll in the war in Gaza, which has ratcheted tension with President Joe Biden's administration.

Biden on Friday presented what he labelled an Israeli three-phase plan that would end the conflict, free all hostages and lead to the reconstruction of the devastated Palestinian territory without Hamas in power.

Netanyahu's office stressed that the war sparked by the October 7 attack would continue until all of Israel's "goals are achieved," including the destruction of Hamas's military and governing capabilities.

The four party leaders in the House and Senate asked Netanyahu last week to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in a letter voicing solidarity with Israel "in your struggle against terror, especially as Hamas continues to hold American and Israeli citizens captive."

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called in March for Israel to hold new elections in a rare example of strident criticism from a senior American official of the country's handling of the war in Gaza.

The rebuke from Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish American in history, came amid expressions of dismay from the White House over the death toll in the conflict, sparked by the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants.

Progressives including Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with the Democrats, have condemned Netanyahu over his handling of the military response and vowed to snub any speech in the United States by the right-wing leader.

"It is a very sad day for our country that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited –- by leaders from both parties –- to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress," Sanders said in a weekend statement.

"Israel, of course, had the right to defend itself against the horrific Hamas terrorist attack of October 7, but it did not, and does not, have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people," he added, calling Netanyahu a "war criminal".

The war broke out when Hamas militants attacked Israel, resulting in 1,194 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

More than 36,470 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.

According to the Israeli military, 294 soldiers have been killed in the military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

House Speaker Mike Johnson's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

bur-st/mtp