Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) became the second U.S. senator to call for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas on Monday, calling Israel’s campaign against the militant group “deeply disturbing” and warning of “mass carnage” in the Gaza Strip—as President Joe Biden argues Hamas would “exploit” any cease-fire.
In the statement, Merkley said he believes Israel is making “a massive mistake” by “waging a war that generates a shocking level of civilian carnage rather than a targeted campaign against Hamas,” which launched a ground attack on Israel last month.
The senator added Israel is “burning through its reserves of international support,” and could damage its economy and set back efforts to strengthen ties with Arab states.
Merkley said in order for a cease-fire and negotiations to last, Israel and Hamas must both stop “military hostilities,” Hamas must release all hostages without conditions and Hamas “can no longer have operational control of Gaza.”
Before he called for a ceasefire, Merkley signed a letter last month saying he believed “Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself against Hamas,” while advocating for Congress to authorize the $10 billion in humanitarian aid that Biden had requested for Gaza, Ukraine and Israel.
Merkley joins Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who became the first in the Senate to call for a cease-fire on Nov. 2, when he told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that he thought it was time for a cease-fire but “the release of those who have been kidnapped should be a part of this,” referring to the hostages taken by Hamas last month.
12,000. That’s at least how many Palestinians have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. About 1,200 people in Israel were killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, and more than 200 were taken hostage.
“I am calling for a ceasefire—a cessation of hostilities by both sides,” Merkley said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “To endure, the ceasefire and the following negotiations must accomplish other essential objectives, including the release of all hostages and a massive influx of humanitarian aid.”
In the House of Representatives, at least 33 lawmakers had joined in the calls for a cease-fire as of Friday. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) introduced a resolution in the House shortly after the Oct. 7 attack calling for a cease-fire, and it has continued to garner support in the month since being introduced. In addition to U.S. legislators, the United Nations, a number of humanitarian organizations and leaders from other countries have called for a cease-fire, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNN earlier this month that he doesn’t know if a cease-fire is possible “with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the state of Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been facing calls for a cease-fire for weeks, but has said Israel will not agree to one until all hostages held by Hamas are returned. Netanyhu did agree to daily four-hour pauses in fighting so civilians can flee earlier this month, in part at the request of Biden, who had been encouraging Netanyahu to consider a days-long pause to allow civilians to relocate, aid to get through to Gaza and time to arrange hostage releases. While Biden has also rejected calls for a cease-fire—saying in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday that “as long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace”—one U.S. official said over the weekend that negotiations for a deal to release some hostages between Israel, Hamas and the U.S. are “closer than we have been perhaps at any point.”