WASHINGTON - Progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led efforts Wednesday to block US arms sales to Israel, a move that was unlikely to succeed but highlighted tensions among Democratic lawmakers grappling with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A clear majority of Republicans back Israel in its military confrontation with Gaza that authorities say has claimed more than 220 Palestinian lives and killed 12 people in Israel.
Democrats are more divided, leaving President Joe Biden's administration under pressure from his party's liberal flank.
"At a time when so many, including President Biden, support a ceasefire, we should not be sending 'direct attack' weaponry to Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu to prolong this violence," Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
"The harsh truth is that these weapons are being sold by the United States to Israel with the clear understanding that the vast majority of them will be used to bomb Gaza," added Rashida Tlaib, a US congresswoman of Palestinian origin.
The United States is Israel's largest supplier of military equipment.
Congress was formally informed on May 5 of the latest sale to Israel's defense ministry, totalling $735 million.
According to congressional rules, lawmakers have until Thursday to present and approve a resolution opposing the sale if it is to be blocked.
Democratic leaders, who do not support the resolution, have not set a date for a vote.
A substantial majority of American Jews identify as Democrats and the party traditionally has supported Israel, albeit with a few critical voices.
The latest Middle East bloodshed however has stirred up fresh criticism of the Jewish state among moderate Democrats.
But the new initiative to block the arms sale remains, at least for now, limited to the party's left wing.
Some moderate Democrats had mulled asking for a postponement, but ultimately they retreated.
The Republicans, on the other hand, reiterated their unwavering support for Israel Wednesday, with several senators taking to the floor "to demand Joe Biden and his administration stand firmly with our ally Israel."
One of the senators, conservative Ted Cruz, slammed Democrats on Twitter, saying Ocasio-Cortez and her close allies were "gunning for a promotion from press secretaries for Hamas to defense secretaries for Hamas."
Biden toughened his tone Wednesday, telling Netanyahu that he expects "significant de-escalation" in Israel's military confrontation with the Palestinians.
After a ninth night of violence, Israel intensified its airstrikes Wednesday on Gaza.
© Agence France-Presse