International 20/05/2021

Israel cools expectations of Gaza ceasefire despite Biden pressure

Netanyahu warns that the option of invading the Strip is not out of the question

3 min
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking about the bombings in Gaza at a meeting with foreign ambassadors, Wednesday

SabadellThe ceasefire in Gaza still seems a distant option. Despite the growing pressure from the international community for Israel to stop its offensive on the Strip, the acting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has assured that he is "willing to continue this operation until the objective is achieved". Netanyahu has expressed this position in a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, hours after U.S. President Joe Biden told him that he expected "a significant de-escalation today on the road to a cease-fire". The Israeli leader thanked Biden for his support but added that he will not stop until he manages to return "calm and security" to the citizens of Israel.

Biden's gesture is significant, since the White House has so far been sympathetic to the Gaza massacre. The US president had assured that he did not see the Israeli response to the rocket fire from Gaza as "excessive", had expressed that Israel has "the right to defend itself" against the "indiscriminate attacks" of Hamas and had limited himself to saying that he would "support" a cease-fire in case it was achieved, but without explicitly calling for a cessation of hostilities. Even so, this Wednesday, the United States has warned that it will not support the proposed resolution that France has submitted to the UN Security Council to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. It is the fourth time that Washington has vetoed such a statement in recent days, and has justified it by assuring that the approval of this resolution could "undermine efforts to de-escalate" the conflict.

In their telephone conversation on Wednesday (the fourth in the last week), Biden and Netanyahu "discussed in detail the state of affairs in Gaza, Israel's progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and the diplomatic efforts underway by the governments of the region and the United States", according to White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.

Invading Gaza

Biden has called Netanyahu after he assured, in a closed-door meeting with foreign ambassadors, that he could not set a deadline for the end of the conflict. "We are not going with a timeline. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations have lasted for a long time and therefore it is not possible to set a deadline", the prime minister said, according to the Times of Israel. In the same meeting, Netanyahu explained that the aim of the bombing of Gaza is to prevent Hamas from continuing to attack Israel, and in this sense has not ruled out a possible invasion of the Strip. "There are two ways to do it: you can conquer [Gaza], and this is always a possibility that is open, or you can deter them. Right now we are immersed in a forceful deterrence operation, but we do not rule out anything", he warned.

On Tuesday evening, Israeli television station N12 reported that Hamas had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire as of 6 a.m. Thursday, although Israel had not yet responded to the mediators' offer. Later, a Hamas spokesman denied it. However, an Egyptian source quoted by Reuters said on Wednesday that there is an agreement in principle between the two sides, which continue to negotiate the details in secret. On the other hand, according to some Israeli media, government sources had said on Tuesday, unofficially, that the conflict could end in "two or three days".

After Biden's call for de-escalation was made public, a Hamas spokesman, Hazem Qassam, said that whoever wants to end the violence has to "force Israel to end the aggression in Jerusalem and the bombing of Gaza". If this is achieved, "there could be room to talk about agreements to restore calm", Qassam said, according to Reuters.

Israel responds to attack from Lebanon

Meanwhile, airstrikes do not stop. Four rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory on Wednesday, the third incident of this type since the conflict with Hamas began on Monday last week. One of the projectiles was intercepted by the the Israeli missile shield . Two more landed in the sea and the fourth hit an unpopulated area of Israel. The Hebrew army said it responded by firing artillery at "several targets in Lebanese territory".

As in the two previous cases, no group has claimed responsibility for the launching of rockets from Lebanon, although in principle it is ruled out that Hezbollah (which has a significant presence in this territory and has had major conflicts with Israel in the past) is involved, and they are attributed to Palestinian groups in the area.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has so far left 227 dead, including 64 minors, and more than 1,600 wounded, according to the authorities of the Strip. Meanwhile, rockets fired from Gaza have killed 12 people, including two children, in Israel.

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