Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he shows a slideshow during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 19, 2021.
Sebastian Scheiner | Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he was determined to continue bombing Gaza after US President Joe Biden called for "significant de-escalation towards a ceasefire" during a phone call between the two leaders.
Shortly after speaking with Biden, Netanyahu said he was "determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved – bring peace and security back to the citizens of Israel," according to the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media outlets.
The worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014 has entered week two as militants resume rocket fire in the blocked Gaza Strip.
Hostilities have spread to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel when Palestinian protesters, striking in solidarity with the Gazans, clash with Israeli police. Some of the protesters throw stones while the police respond with tear gas. Many of the demonstrators do not support Hamas, but see the protests as acts of resistance against the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, Lebanese security officials reported several rockets fired into Israel from southern Lebanon. The Israeli military said airstrike sirens were triggered in northern Israel and that one of the four missiles fired on the land was intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system.
"In response, IDF artillery forces hit a number of targets in Lebanon," the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on their Twitter account.
Air strikes by Israeli fighter planes on Wednesday killed six people in Gaza and set up an extended family home in the area where 40 people lived. Family members say a warning missile fired five minutes before the bombing, allowing everyone in the house to escape with their lives.
The number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza rose to 219, including at least 63 children, according to the local health authorities. At least 17 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Friday. The death toll in Israel is currently 12, including two children. Two Thai workers in southern Israel were killed in a rocket attack from Gaza on Tuesday. Israel said more than 3,400 rockets bombed its cities.
On May 18, 2021, rockets controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement will be fired at Israel from Gaza City as Israeli-Palestinian violence flares up.
Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images
The IDF plans to expand the bombing of Hamas' tunnel networks, many of which run under the civilian areas of the Gaza Strip. Several houses have already been destroyed in the bombings and Palestinian families have been buried under the rubble. Netanyahu said Tuesday that the operations show "there is a price" for Hamas' aggression against Israel.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus described the tunnels as the "backbone" of Hamas' operations and said the campaign to wipe out the underground network would be "expanded" in the coming days.
Hamas – the US-named terrorist group that leads the rocket attacks on Israel – also rules the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile stretch of land that is home to 2 million people and has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.
International armistice efforts
International demands for an end to violence have grown in the meantime. In a call Wednesday morning with Netanyahu, Biden said he expected "a significant de-escalation today on the way to a ceasefire". It was the fourth call between the two heads of state since the violence broke out.
Meanwhile, France, Egypt and Jordan pushed for an immediate ceasefire and unhindered access to humanitarian aid in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
"The three heads of state and government (France, Egypt and Jordan) stressed the urgency to address the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by resuming effective negotiations to achieve a just and lasting peace," said a joint statement on Wednesday .
"The three heads of state and government emphasized that the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the two-state solution remains indispensable for a comprehensive peace in the region."
An elderly Palestinian man walks past a building that was destroyed by Israeli bombing in Gaza City on May 19, 2021.
Mohammed Abed | AFP | Getty Images
Members of the United States Security Council have now pushed for resolutions calling for ceasefires that all US has so far blocked, reportedly because the texts did not mention Hamas' rocket attacks as part of the problem. The last rejection of a resolution by the US came late Tuesday evening, so the Security Council did not receive a joint statement as bombs and missiles continued to fly.
Egypt's key role as a broker
However, there may be signs of progress; Late on Tuesday evening, Israeli media reported that diplomatic efforts between Egypt and the US could result in a ceasefire in the next two to three days. Egypt has significant influence as it brokered the ceasefire that ended the last Gaza war in 2014 and is the only country with lines of communication with both Israel and Hamas.
The government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has already started communication with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and has dispatched mediators to Jerusalem and opened its border with Gaza – the only land border that connects the blocked enclave with the rest of the world Allow injured Gazans access to Egyptian hospitals.
A Palestinian stands next to the body of Menna Shreir (3) in a morgue in Gaza City on May 19, 2021 after she died of her injuries following an Israeli air strike.
Mohammed Abed | AFP | Getty Images
International pressure, however, can be unsuccessful as long as Hamas and Israel have incentives to continue attacking each other. Even left-wing Jewish-Israeli MPs in the Israeli parliament who support the Palestinian statehood have not called for an end to the Israeli military offensive, as Hamas rockets are still being fired in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The US government continues to affirm the "right of Israel to defend itself". Washington is Israel's leading arms dealer, providing it with US $ 3.8 billion in military aid annually.
Israeli media reported this week that the House Democrats will call for the Biden government to stop a proposed sale of precision missiles to Israel. The government notified Congress in early May that it was planning to sell $ 735 million in arms to Israel, Reuters reported at the time.