Bernie Sanders calls for 'balanced' US Middle East policy

US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a Community Conversation at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, USA, on April 9, 2016.
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a Community Conversation at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, USA, on April 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on Sunday (April 10) for more "balanced" US Middle East policy, deeming Israel's actions in the 2014 Gaza war "disproportionate."

Asked by CNN's Jake Tapper why Sanders - who would be the first Jewish US president - has adopted a critical position on the issue when "everyone supports whatever Israel wants to do.

"The only way we succeed (in the Middle East) is that if the United States plays the role which is of course we are going to support Israel, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people," he said.

Dismissing the relevance of his background, Sanders - a secular Jew who spent time on an Israeli kibbutz - said, "I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East."

Earlier this month, the Vermont senator criticised Israel's role during the 2014 Gaza war in a widely read interview with the New York Daily News, saying he believed more than 10,000 innocent people died in the conflict.

Though he admitted to not being sure about the number during the interview and accepted a correction that the figure was actually just over 2,100 people, his statement came under fire from Jewish groups.

Asked about the reaction by CNN, he repeated that Israel's actions were "disproportionate."

"Israel has 100 per cent - and no one will fight for that principle more strongly than I will - has the right to live in freedom independently and in security without having to be subjected to terrorist attacks," he said.

"But I think that we will not succeed to ever bring peace into that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect."

Israel launched the seven-week conflict in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to the group's firing of rockets into southern Israel.

More than 70 per cent of the 2,130 Palestinians killed in the conflict - which destroyed infrastructure and residential buildings - were civilians, the United Nations estimates. Israel puts the number at around 50 per cent.

"In Gaza right now, poverty, unemployment, their community has been decimated," Sanders said. "You can't ignore that fact."

"And you can't just be only concerned about Israel's needs." he added. "You have to be concerned about the needs of all other people in the region."