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US airman dead after self-immolating outside Israeli embassy

WASHINGTON (AFP) A US airman has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington at the weekend in protest over the war in Gaza, the Air Force said Monday.

The shocking act was an escalation of recent protests across the United States against Israel’s actions in Gaza, where with US support it is waging a retaliatory war for an attack on October 7 by Hamas militants.

Emergency responders on Sunday had rushed to the scene in response to a “call for person on fire outside the Israeli Embassy,” the capital city’s fire department said.

The unnamed man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media.

He was transported to hospital with “critical life-threatening injuries,” the fire department said, and an Air Force spokeswoman said Monday morning he had died Sunday night.

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said no staff were injured.

Protesters burn the Israeli flag at the conclusion of a vigil for US Air Force active-duty airman Aaron Bushnell outside the Israeli Embassy on February 26, 2024 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

In the video, the man wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid, lighting himself on fire and yelling “Free Palestine!” until he collapses.

The video was reportedly first shared in a livestream on the social platform Twitch.

Domestic and international pressure 

 

With the death toll in Gaza nearing 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, international pressure has been increasing on the United States to rein in ally Israel and call for a ceasefire.

Washington last week blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, its third such use of its veto on the matter.

Some voters in Joe Biden’s Democratic Party are attempting to press the president on the issue, with groups of Arab American voters in Michigan pledging to vote “uncommitted” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary Tuesday.

The White House has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have so far failed.

In an update on ongoing multinational talks Sunday, the United States said an “understanding” had emerged on a possible deal for Hamas to release hostages and for a new ceasefire in the Gaza war.

Domestic demonstrations have typically involved peaceful street protests, though in December a person outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta also set themself on fire.

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