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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his case for President Joe Biden’s more than $60 billion budget request for his department and the Agency for International Development to Congress on Tuesday, amid deep divides with Republicans over spending priorities and Israel policy.

Blinken testified on Tuesday in the Democratic-controlled Senate, starting with the Foreign Relations Committee. He was scheduled to appear later before the appropriations subcommittee that oversees diplomatic and foreign aid spending.

He returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for two more rounds of testimony at hearings of the Republican-led House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and a House appropriations subcommittee.

The hearings are expected to focus on Israel policy, after Biden this month said he would delay a shipment of bombs to Israel and consider withholding others if Israeli forces launched a major invasion of Rafah, a refugee-packed city in southern Gaza.

Antony Blinken says US ‘determined’ to get Israel-Hamas deal ‘now’

The developments prompted angry denunciations from Republicans, some of whom have accused Biden of abandoning Israel, despite the billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance that remains in the pipeline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Biden has also faced criticism from many of his fellow Democrats, who want him to do more - including putting conditions on arms exports - to push Netanyahu’s government to protect Palestinian civilians.

Palestinian authorities say more than 35,000 people have been killed during Israel’s campaign in Gaza, many of them women and children. Malnutrition is widespread and much of the population of the coastal enclave has been left homeless, with much of the enclave’s infrastructure destroyed.

Protests

Tuesday morning’s hearing was interrupted repeatedly by protesters shouting about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, starting moments after Blinken began his opening statement.

Ceasefire should be ‘no-brainer’ for Hamas, Blinken says

In his remarks, Blinken said the administration was standing with Israel but also said, “we do everything we can to bring an end to the terrible human suffering in Gaza and prevent the conflict from spreading.”

Such protests have been a feature of congressional appearances by Biden administration officials. When Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified on Oct. 31 about Biden’s request for security assistance for Ukraine and Israel, they were repeatedly interrupted by protesters.

Protests over Gaza have intensified across the United States since then, including on college campuses where there have been dozens of arrests.

A sweeping $95 billion foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and humanitarian needs, finally passed Congress in April after being stalled for months by Republicans unhappy about the billions of dollars in assistance Washington has sent Kyiv as it battles Russian invaders.

The package only passed the House because a majority of Democrats supported it, and the parties remain divided over how much more help Washington should provide to Ukraine.

Antony Blinken urges Hamas to agree truce to help Gazans

Republicans also expressed outrage on Monday when the International Criminal Court in the Hague requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense chief, and for three Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the appropriations subcommittee where Blinken is testifying on Tuesday, called the ICC’s actions “outrageous” and promised to act.

“I will feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC,” Graham said in a statement.

Democrats also criticized the ICC’s action, with Biden calling it “outrageous.” Blinken raised questions over the court’s jurisdiction as well as its process in making the request. He added that it could jeopardize negotiations to achieve a hostage deal and a ceasefire.

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