Israel-Gaza: Biden tells Netanyahu he wants 'path to ceasefire'

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Damage from an Israeli air strike overnight in Gaza CityImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Damage from an Israeli air strike overnight in Gaza City

US President Joe Biden has told Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu he expects a "significant de-escalation" in the Gaza conflict on Wednesday.

Mr Biden wanted a "path to ceasefire", the White House said.

The US is a staunch ally of Israel and has so far opposed a joint UN Security Council statement on the conflict.

In response Mr Netanyahu said he was "determined to carry on" until "calm and security are restored to Israeli citizens", according to Israeli media.

The conflict is in its 10th day, with a continuing exchange of rocket fire from Palestinian militants into Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

On Wednesday, four rockets were also fired from Lebanon into Israel and Israel's military responded by firing artillery shells at "a number of targets in Lebanese territory". It was not immediately clear whether this would prove to be a significant escalation.

The Gaza fighting began after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem that culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas, which controls Gaza, began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

At least 227 people, including more than 100 women and children, have been killed in Gaza so far, according to its health ministry. Israel has said at least 150 militants are among those killed in Gaza. Hamas does not give casualty figures for fighters.

In Israel 12 people, including two children, have been killed, its medical service says. Israel says some 4,000 rockets have been fired towards its territory by militants in Gaza.

Ceasefire moves stall

On Wednesday morning, Mr Biden held his fourth call with Mr Netanyahu since the conflict started.

A statement released by the White House said: "The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire."

Media caption,

Ex-UN rapporteur John Dugard: US is not honest broker in Israel-Gaza conflict

The US has called before for a truce but has held up any joint UN statement, saying it would not help with de-escalation.

The Palestinian representative at the UN, Riyad Mansour, called the Security Council's failure to express a unified position "shameful".

The latest bid for a council resolution calling for a ceasefire, launched by France, failed on Wednesday when the US said it could "undermine efforts to de-escalate".

One Israeli military source told Reuters that Israel was assessing whether conditions were right for a truce.

The Ynet news website said that the Israelis were talking with Egyptian mediators. It quoted sources in the Israeli cabinet as saying Israel could achieve its objectives and end the fighting "within days".

A Hamas leader said that efforts by mediators were "serious and continuous" but that Palestinian demands had to be met.

Earlier on Wednesday Mr Netanyahu did not appear ready to begin a truce.

He said there were "only two ways that you can deal with" Hamas. "You can either conquer them, and that's always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don't rule out anything."

Assassination attempt

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said there had been renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Wednesday and that its fighter jets had attacked military infrastructure, including tunnels, and the homes of Hamas commanders.

The BBC's Rushdi Abualouf in Gaza said two Palestinian militants were killed in Gaza City, as dozens of strikes targeted both it and the southern city of Khan Younis.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted Palestinian rockets throughout the night

Gaza City mother of seven Randa Abu Sultan, 45, told AFP news agency: "My four-year-old son tells me he's scared that if he falls asleep, he'll wake up to find us dead."

IDF spokesman Brig Gen Hidai Zilberman said Israel had tried to assassinate Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Mohammed Deif has survived repeated attempts on his life, including in the last major conflict in 2014. He tends to stay in the background and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Sirens sounded across much of south and central Israel on Wednesday.

Hamas also targeted an Israeli air base overnight but the IDF said no bases were hit.

Of the 3,750 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip since the fighting began, 550 have fallen short in Gaza, according to the IDF. Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system has intercepted about 90% of the rockets that have crossed into Israeli territory, it says.

The IDF estimated that at the start of the conflict, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main groups in Gaza, had an arsenal of about 12,000 rockets or mortars.

Mr Netanyahu said the Israeli operation had "set Hamas back by many years".

There has also been unrest within Israel and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Palestinians took part in a general strike on Tuesday. There were clashes in several locations.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The party of Turkish President Erdogan rejected US accusations of anti-Semitism

Separately on Wednesday, Turkey rejected US accusations that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had made anti-Semitic remarks about Israel.

He had accused Israel of "terrorism" against the Palestinians and recently said: "It is in their nature".

State department spokesman Ned Price said the US found the remarks "reprehensible".

Omer Celik, a spokesman for Mr Erdogan's party, said the president had given very strong messages against anti-Semitism, adding: "Accusing our president of anti-Semitism is an illogical and untrue approach. This is a lie."

Timeline: How the violence escalated

The worst violence in years between Israel and the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip has seen dozens killed. It follows a month of spiralling tensions before open conflict broke out. Here is what happened in the lead-up to the fighting.

Israeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate
Image caption Israeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate Image copyright by Getty Images

Clashes erupt in East Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police.

Palestinians are angry over barriers which had been placed outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Jerusalem‘s Old City preventing them from gathering there after prayers at the Old City’s al-Aqsa Mosque on what is the first night of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinian discontent had been stoked earlier in the day when President Mahmoud Abbas called off planned elections, implicitly blaming Israel over voting arrangements for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Hamas - Mr Abbas' Islamist rivals who control Gaza and were running in the elections - react angrily to the postponement.

Violence around Damascus Gate and elsewhere in East Jerusalem continues nightly.

Rockets are fired from Gaza at Israel, which responds with air strikes after a relative period of calm between Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

Clashes spread to the mixed Arab-Jewish port city of Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, Jewish youths, angry over a spate of filmed assaults by Palestinians on Orthodox Jews posted on the TikTok video-sharing app, attack Arabs and chant anti-Arab slogans.

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate
Image caption Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate Image copyright by Getty Images

Hundreds of ultra-nationalist Jews shouting “Death to Arabs” march towards Damascus Gate in protest at the Arab assaults on Jews. Clashes erupt at the site between Palestinians and police trying to separate the two groups, injuring dozens of people.

Violence between Arabs and Jews spreads to other parts of the city.

Militants fire dozens of rockets at Israel from Gaza, drawing retaliatory air strikes.

President Abbas' Fatah faction and Hamas condemn the looming threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers ahead of a planned court hearing. Hamas calls on Arabs to form “human shields of resistance” there.

In the days that follow, police and protesters repeatedly clash at the site as it becomes a focal point for Palestinian anger.

Militants in Gaza begin sending incendiary balloons into Israel over successive days, causing dozens of fires.

Two Palestinian gunmen are shot dead and a third is wounded after opening fire on Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank. Israeli authorities say the group planned to carry out a “major attack” in Israel.

The al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence
Image caption The al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence Image copyright by Getty Images

Later on after Friday prayers - the last of Ramadan - major clashes erupt at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, injuring more than 200 people. Israel's police force says it used “riot dispersal means”, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades after officers came under a hail of stones and bottles.

A second night of violence erupts in East Jerusalem after tens of thousands of worshippers prayed at the al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan.

Police and protesters clash at Damascus Gate, with police using water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas against crowds of Palestinians, some throwing stones.

More than 120 Palestinians and some 17 police are injured.

Israel's Supreme Court postpones the hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah case following calls to delay it because of the growing unrest. Tensions remain high though and more clashes take place between Israeli police and Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and at Damascus Gate.

Early morning clashes break out between police and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, where crowds throw stones and officers fire stun grenades.

Palestinian anger has been inflamed by an annual Jerusalem Day march planned for later in the day by hundreds of Israeli nationalists to celebrate Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

The march is due to pass through predominantly Arab parts of the Old City in what is seen by Palestinians as a deliberate provocation. It is rerouted at the 11th hour, but the atmosphere remains volatile with more than 300 Palestinians and some 21 police injured in the violence at the holy site.

Hamas issues an ultimatum to Israel to “withdraw its soldiers... from the blessed al-Aqsa mosque and Sheikh Jarrah” by 18:00. When the deadline passes without an Israeli response, rockets are fired towards Jerusalem for the first time in years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the group has “crossed a red line” and Israel retaliates with air strikes, killing three Hamas fighters.

A continuing exchange of rocket-fire and air strikes quickly escalates into the fiercest hostilities between the two sides since they fought a war in 2014.

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