Cuomo offers ‘total solidarity’ for Israel

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during their meeting at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during their meeting at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

JERUSALEM (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off a two-day visit to Israel on Wednesday, where he expressed “total solidarity” with the country over the monthlong war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Cuomo met Israeli leaders hours before a temporary truce between the sides was set to expire. Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been in talks in Egypt over a long-term cease-fire.

Speaking at the residence of newly inaugurated President Reuven Rivlin, Cuomo said Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas and Islamic militants.

“We understand the attack that you are under,” Cuomo said. “Everyone wishes for peace and that’s our eternal hope, but we also understand your need to do what is right by your people in defense, and we’re here to support you in that.”

Rivlin said he was certain that the United States would continue to stand behind Israel.

Since the truce went into effect Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets. The cease-fire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce.

More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, Palestinian and UN officials say. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed in the war, which began July 8.

Later Wednesday, Cuomo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised Cuomo and the American government for “standing on the right side of the moral divide.”

New York is home to 1.7 million Jews, the largest concentration outside of Israel, a fact Cuomo emphasized in his meetings. Cuomo faces a Democratic primary next month.

This is Cuomo’s fourth trip to Israel, his office said. On Wednesday, Cuomo also visited the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, two of Jerusalem’s most revered religious sites. On Thursday, Cuomo is expected to meet residents and injured soldiers in Israel’s south.

Cuomo’s office said the governor and his delegation would not visit Palestinian territories or meet Palestinian officials during the 30-hour trip, despite a personal invitation by the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to experience “all sides of the conflict, not just one.”

Cuomo told reporters before leaving for Israel that he only received the letter from Ambassador Riyad Mansour late Tuesday.

“This trip is to show solidarity with Israel and that’s what we’re going to do,” Cuomo said Tuesday.

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