President Joe Biden has warned Israel that he expects to see a “significant de-escalation” in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza, as pressure mounted on both Hamas and the Jewish state to call a ceasefire.
“The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” a White House spokesman said on Wednesday, the first time that Washington has publicly put pressure on Israel to end the fighting in Gaza.
Prior to the statement on Wednesday, Biden had been holding talks with Israel behind the scenes on ending the violence and has faced for criticism for his slow response to the crisis.
It came as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said he was prepared to “conquer” the Gaza Strip if rocket fire from Hamas continues.
In a briefing with foreign diplomats in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu refused to give an estimate of when a ceasefire could take effect and raised the prospect of a full ground invasion by Israeli soldiers.
“You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them,” Netanyahu said. “We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we are not ruling out anything.”
He added that he “was not standing with a stopwatch” and suggested that several more weeks of fighting could follow, citing previous conflicts with Hamas such as the 2014 Gaza war.
However, in private, Israeli officials say they are assessing “when is the right moment for a ceasefire”, while according to Israeli media reports a ceasefire could be declared as soon as Thursday morning.
“We are looking at when is the right moment for a ceasefire,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, amid an international diplomatic push to broker a truce after more than a week of bloodshed.
The UK is supporting efforts to reach a ceasefire, the minister for the Middle East James Cleverly said Wednesday.
“We are urging the parties to work with mediators towards an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of life and a worsening humanitarian situation,” he said in parliament. “We are supporting United Nations, Egyptian and Qatari efforts to that end and we are also working closely with the United States.”
Calling for an end to the fighting, Cleverly added: “The UK will continue our intensive diplomatic efforts in the region focused on securing a ceasefire and creating the conditions for a sustainable peace.”
In a 25-minute attack overnight, 52 Israeli aircraft struck what Israel’s military described as Hamas tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF said 40 targets were hit in the operation.
The overnight bombing killed at least six people acrossGaza and destroyed the home of an extended family.
In the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, residents surveyed the piles of bricks, concrete and other debris that had once been the home of 40 members of al-Astal family. They said a warning missile struck the building five minutes before the airstrike, allowing everyone to escape.
Ahmed al-Astal, a university professor, described a scene of panic before the airstrike hit, with men, women and children racing out of the building. Some of the women didn’t even have time to cover their hair with Muslim headscarves, he said.
“We had just gotten down to the street, breathless, when the devastating bombardment came,” he told the Associated Press. “They left nothing but destruction, the children’s cries filling the street… This is happening, and there is no one to help us. We ask God to help us.”
Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres, since this round of conflict began, the UN humanitarian agency said.
Some 48,000 of the 52,000 displaced had gone to 58 UN-run schools.
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