Israel-Gaza conflict: Biden tells Netanyahu to ‘de-escalate’ in ceasefire push

US president speaks to Israeli PM who insists there is no timeframe to end operation

US president Joe Biden: “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

US president Joe Biden: “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

 

International pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas mounted on Wednesday, as US president Joe Biden told prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu he expected Israel to move towards a truce with Hamas on Wednesday.

Following a phone call between the leaders, the White House said that Mr Biden “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire”.

Despite the fact that the comments mark the strongest indication yet that Washington’s patience with Israel is wearing thin, Mr Netanyahu made it clear that he still needs more time.

“I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved – to bring back peace and security to the citizens of Israel,” he said.

He told foreign diplomats on Wednesday that Israel is fighting to maximise the time that any truce with Hamas will last. On the subject of a ceasefire, he said Israel was not “standing with a stopwatch”.

The rubble of a building after being bombed by Israeli army warplanes in the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Samar Abu Elouf/New York Times
The rubble of a building after being bombed by Israeli army warplanes in the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Samar Abu Elouf/New York Times

Egypt, which has mediated all the previous ceasefire agreements between the sides, is in contact with both sides.

Israel rejected out of hand a Hamas demand that a truce deal include limits on Israeli police deployment in the area of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City and the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

As pressure for a truce increased, the fighting continued. At least 219 people, including almost 100 women and children, have been killed in Gaza. Twelve people have died in Israel.

Rockets from Lebanon

Four rockets, believed to have been fired by Palestinian groups based in Lebanon, landed in northern Israel on Wednesday afternoon. Two landed in the sea, one was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system and one landed in an open area. A resident of the Galilee suffered a heart attack and Israel responded with artillery fire into southern Lebanon.

The latest escalation began last Monday with a massive rocket salvo from Gaza aimed at the Jerusalem area, following days of clashes, including around the Al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinian anger was fuelled by plans to expel residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for Jewish families.

With Israel still looking for a PR victory that will enable it to end the conflict with the upper hand, the army confirmed that it carried out two unsuccessful attempts to assassination Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, in recent days. Mr Deif escaped unharmed from both attempts.

The Israeli army does claim to have detroyed the Hamas underground tunnel network, dubbed the metro, during its campaign. Some 50 planes targeted 12km of the tunnel network in the southern Gaza Strip in the latest strikes, it said.

Maj Gen Aharon Haliva claimed the military had accomplished in 50 hours what it accomplished in 50 days in the 2014 Gaza war.

“My assessment is that Israel’s security reality vis-a-vis Hamas, vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip, radiating significantly outward to the entire Middle East, will be something entirely different,” he said, adding that five years of quiet would qualify as an achievement for the current operation.