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Biden Tells Netanyahu He Expects Israel To Significantly De-Escalate By Today

Israeli artillery fires towards Gaza Strip from a position at the Israeli-Gaza border near Sderot, on Wednesday.
Ilia Yefimovich
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images
Israeli artillery fires towards Gaza Strip from a position at the Israeli-Gaza border near Sderot, on Wednesday.

Updated May 19, 2021 at 1:32 PM ET

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas entered its 10th day, President Biden pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to de-escalate Israeli military action in a push to end the hostilities, 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," it said in a statement.

The White House said Biden and Netanyahu "had a detailed discussion on 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."

After a later visit to military headquarters, Netanyahu said he is "determined to continue this operation until its aim is met."

There has been no letup in fighting, despite growing international calls for a cease-fire.

In one attack overnight, more than 50 Israeli warplanes pounded the southern part of the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli military. The target was a vast network of tunnels, which Israel says is used by Hamas to shuttle weapons and people.

Israel says more than 50 cross-border rocket attacks launched from Gaza set off sirens in some southern Israeli communities and killed two workers from Thailand. The Israeli military says more than 3,450 rockets have been launched from Gaza since the fighting began, more than in any previous conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children. Health officials in Gaza say 219 people there have been killed in the latest conflict, including 63 children, 36 women and 16 elderly Gazans.

A senior Israeli military official told reporters that Israel is assessing its "achievements in this offensive" — killing senior militants and destroying rocket launchers and some of the tunnels that Israel says Hamas has built inside Gaza, NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

The official said Israel is evaluating whether that is enough to deliver a message to Hamas to deter it from firing rockets deep into Israel. Until then, he says, the military is prepared to go on fighting for more days.

Basem Naim, head of Hamas' international relations office, toldNPR's Steve Inskeep on Wednesday that the group has been ready to stop fighting.

"From the first moment, Gaza have said we are ready to stop immediately resisting or fighting if the Israeli do two things: stop the aggression against our people and, second, stop their plans to evict our people forcefully from Sheikh Jarrah and stop the plans of storming the [Al-Aqsa] Mosque by extremist Jewish settlers," said Naim, a former Palestinian minister of health.

He said Palestinians have the right to defend themselves. "Any people under occupation, regardless of [whether they are] Israelis or Muslims, Jewish, they have the right based on the international law to resist the occupation by all feasible means, including the armed resistance."

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to end the conflict are picking up.

Egypt and the United Nations are trying to mediate a cease-fire. On Tuesday, France called for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the fighting.

Biden has been under pressure from his Democratic Party's left over Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 58,000 Palestinians have been displaced during the recent hostilities, many of them taking refuge in schools.

Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, indicated that the battle will continue. Speaking with reporters, he said the campaign to destroy the Hamas tunnel network "will be expanded" in the coming days. Conricus called the tunnels "the backbone" of Hamas operations.

But the tunnels run under heavily populated areas, and civilians are often caught up in the attacks. The foundations of buildings above the tunnels can collapse, killing people inside. Conricus said the Israeli military is trying to minimize the number of unintended casualties.

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Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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