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Washington Post: Biden tells Netanyahu he expects ‘significant de-escalation today’ as Israel, Hamas continue attacks

posted on: May 19, 2021

Rockets are launched toward Israel from Gaza City on May 18. (MAHMUD HAMS/Getty Images via Bloomberg)

By Loveday MorrisMichael E. Miller and Shira Rubin May 19, 2021 at 11:07 a.m. EDT

Source: Washington Post

TEL AVIV — President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a phone call Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” according to the White House, in the most assertive language used publicly by the administration since Israel and Hamas began exchanging rocket fire 10 days ago.

Biden’s urging came amid mounting international demands for a cease-fire. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the operation will not stop until Israel achieves its military objectives.

Here’s what to know:

  • The Palestinian death toll in Gaza stood at 219, including at least 63 children, local health officials said Wednesday. In the West Bank, at least 19 Palestinians have been killed since Friday, officials there said.
  • The death toll in Israel stood at 12, including two children, after police said two Thai workers were killed Tuesday by rockets fired from Gaza.
  • Biden’s call for de-escalation came a day after he faced protests over his administration’s handling of the conflict during a visit to a Ford auto plant in Dearborn, Mich., the heart of the state’s Arab American community.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more apparent that a cease-fire is necessary.”
  • The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations challenged the Biden administration to show results from its diplomatic efforts after the United States continued to block U.N. Security Council action on grounds it would interfere with attempts to negotiate a cease-fire.

So far, Israeli forces have destroyed more than 60 miles of underground tunnels, struck 80 rocket launchers and killed at least 130 militants, a senior Israeli military officer said Wednesday. The officer gave an initial assessment on the condition of anonymity, according to military protocol.

He said Israel had a “factory of targets” that had been prepared for years in advance to be used when the “opportunity” arose. Israel has achieved many of its objectives, but there is “still work to do,” he added.

“We are assessing whether the achievements are enough to bring the message to Hamas,” he said. “We can go more days, more weeks.”

He declined to elaborate on whether a cease-fire was imminent and said discussions are underway among Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on the “right time.”

Egyptian mediators have been leading cease-fire negotiations between the two sides. On Wednesday, Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, denied reports in Israeli and Arab news media that a cease-fire agreement had been reached for 6 p.m. on Thursday.

“No agreement was reached,” he said in a statement.

Hamas, suffering large losses to its military infrastructure, has slowed its rocket fire in recent days, and sirens in Tel Aviv have been silent since Saturday night. But the Palestinian militant group has continued with shorter-range bombardment of areas closer to the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, four rockets were fired from Lebanon toward the Lower Galilee and other towns in northern Israel, according to the Israeli army. Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile system intercepted one of the rockets, while the rest likely fell in open areas, the Israeli army reported.Following the incident, Haifa, Acre, and several other towns in northern Israel opened their public bomb shelters.

No injuries or damage were reported. The Israeli army struck a number of targets in Lebanon as it continued to investigate into the afternoon. No organization has publicly claimed responsibility for the incident.

An Israeli tank takes a firing position during shelling toward the Gaza Strip, along the border with the Palestinian enclave on May 19, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli jets continued airstrikes on Gaza overnight. The Israel Defense Forces later said 52 warplanes had dropped about 120 munitions on approximately 40 underground Hamas targets in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, and Khan Younis, the Palestinian enclave’s second-largest city, in an attack that lasted 25 minutes.

The death toll in Gaza rose by two people to 219, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, including 63 children and 36 women.

Among those killed overnight in Gaza was a reporter for the Hamas-run al-Aqsa radio station, according to the station.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out “organized state terrorism and war crimes” in Gaza that are punishable under international law.

Who are Hamas’s political leaders, and how is Israel targeting them?

Since the conflict began on May 10, around 3,750 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel, with at least 540 of them landing short, according to the Israeli military. Israel says its Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted about 90 percent of the rockets that have reached its airspace.

France circulated a draft cease-fire resolution to U.N. Security Council members on Tuesday, Axios reported.

The draft is based on the Biden administration’s own recent public statements, making it more difficult for the United States to veto the resolution, it said. The United States has blocked three previous draft statements on Gaza at the council, saying that a statement would get in the way of behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

“The shooting must stop,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement after speaking with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, who he said were in agreement. “The time has come for a cease-fire.”

That position prompted the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to challenge the Biden administration to show results on Tuesday.

“If the Biden administration can exert all of their pressure to bring an end to the aggression against our people, nobody is going to stand in their way,” Riyad Mansour said, according to the Associated Press.

The increasing clamor for a cease-fire came as the Biden administration was privately pressing Netanyahu to wrap up military operations, the AP reported.

There were signs of the growing strain on Biden during his visit to Dearborn, where more than 1,000 people gathered a few miles from the auto plant and booed at mentions of the president’s name.

He was met on the tarmac upon arrival by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress. She has publicly pushed the president to back a U.N. Security Council Resolution calling for a cease-fire. Tlaib, whose grandmother lives in the West Bank, could be seen in animated conversation with Biden.

In a speech at the plant, he did not discuss the conflict at length but said he would pray that the congresswoman’s relatives were safe.

“I promise you I’m going to do everything to see that they are,” Biden said.

Biden was asked about the conflict as he climbed into an electric truck for a test drive. When a reporter asked him if he would take a quick question about Israel, the president joked about running the reporter over.

“No, you can’t. Not unless you get in front of the car as I step on it,” Biden said. “I’m only teasing.”

Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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