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Israel-Gaza conflict: De-escalate tensions with Hamas today, Biden tells Netanyahu

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US President Joe Biden has told Israel’s prime minister he expects to see a significant de-escalation in its conflict with Hamas today.

In what will be seen as Mr Biden’s toughest public pressure on the US ally so far, the White House confirmed the president asked Mr Netanyahu in a telephone call to move toward “the path to a ceasefire”.

Pressure has been mounting on Mr Biden, as the fighting – the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in seven years – has killed at least 219 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel.

However, there remains little sign of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza after more than a week of cross-border attacks.

President Joe Biden struck an optimistic tone on Wednesday (May 12) about violence between Israelis and Palestinians concluding soon
Image:
Joe Biden’s administration has so far refused to back a UN statemen ton the Middle East situation

After Israeli’s N12 TV news channel said fighting could end on Thursday morning, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, Ezzat El-Reshiq, said there had been “no agreement reached over specific timings for a ceasefire”.

Even Democrats have been pushing President Biden to take a more active and public role in brokering a
ceasefire.

During the call, their fourth of the week, the White House said the two leaders “had a detailed discussion”.

It had included “the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States”.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said: “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he
expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

For the past week, the United States – a strong ally of Israel – has repeatedly opposed a statement by the 15-member
UN Security Council on hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

A tower housing the AP and Al Jazeera offices collapses after an air strike
Image:
A tower housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera media offices collapses after an air strike

The US administration says its objection was over the wording of the statement (drafted by China, Tunisia and
Norway) not its intentions but it has come under some criticism for the apparent stalling.

Since the conflict began more than a week ago, almost 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary care health centres, the UN’s humanitarian agency said.

Almost 50,000 displaced people have gone to UN-run schools.

A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City. Pic: AP
Image:
A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City. Pic: AP

Israel’s military said 50 rockets were fired overnight from Gaza, though there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Hamas began firing rockets nine days ago in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel said more than 3,450 rockets had been directed towards it from Gaza, with some falling short or being shot down by its Iron Dome air defences.

It estimates it has killed about 160 militants.

Medical officials in Gaza said 223 Palestinians had been killed, including 63 children, and more than 1,400 wounded since the fighting began on 10 May.

Israeli authorities said 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.

A total of 11 of the children who were killed had been receiving care helping them deal with trauma.

Analysis: No longer hoping – expecting
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent

Joe Biden’s call with Benjamin Netanyahu was an important one. It’s the fourth time they’ve spoken this week, and it suggests a toughening of the rhetoric between two men who have known each other for decades.

Notably, the President isn’t talking about hoping for a ceasefire – but expecting it.

This has been the biggest foreign policy test that Joe Biden has faced since becoming President, and it’s a tricky one.

There is plenty of support for Israel among American voters, as a whole, and the United States has long been a firm ally of the country. Indeed, the President has just signed off on a deal to supply $735m of armaments to Israel, just as he was also calling for a ceasefire.

But at the same time, Biden has aspirations to take his long-standing reputation for fostering bipartisan agreement in domestic matters – and to transfer that on to the global stage.

What better place to do that than in this troubled corner of the Middle East?

He has already renewed relations with the Palestinian Authority and also restored American aid to Palestinians – which had been shelved by former President Trump.

Whereas Trump was entirely focused on supporting Israel, the Democrats talk about greater nuance in the chronic disputes between Israel and its neighbours.

The challenge, of course, is to do that without ostracising a swathe of American voters.

Biden and Netanyahu first met when they were young men, starting their political careers. More than a decade ago, Biden was sent to Israel on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

There is no doubt the president understands the sensitivities of the region – but he also realises he wields more diplomatic power than any other world leader.

He’ll have to use it deftly if he is to force through a ceasefire without damaging the special tie that exists between America and Israel.

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