Biden tells Netanyahu he supports ceasefire as fighting continues into a second week
President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday that the United States was working with Egypt and others to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The call came as the air war between the two parties continued into its second week. Gaza health officials put the death toll there at 212, including 61 children, with another 1,600 injured, by Tuesday morning, though for the first time since the escalation began no one was apparently killed in Gaza overnight Monday. On the Israeli side, at least 10 people, including two children and a soldier, have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
The conflict has been accompanied by intense violence between Jewish and Arab citizens inside Israel. On Monday, a Jewish man in the mixed city of Lod who had been attacked with stones last week in retaliation for the beating death of an Arab man died of his wounds. Arab-Israeli leaders had called for a general strike of Arab workers in Israel on Tuesday, and Palestinian political leaders declared it a “day of rage,” calling on people to stage demonstrations across the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Biden and Netanyahu have spoken several times since the outbreak of fighting began. The White House readout of the call said that the president had “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks” and also “welcomed efforts to address inter-communal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem.”
Biden “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the summary continued. “The two leaders discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end. The two leaders agreed that they and their teams would remain in close touch.”
The European Union’s foreign ministers were slated to meet on Tuesday to discuss how to advance ceasefire talks. A spokesman, Peter Stano, said the meeting is aimed at working out “how best the E.U. can contribute to defusing the tensions, stop the escalation and stop the ongoing violence.”
But in Israel, Gen. Hidai Zilberman suggested on Army Radio that the end of the battle was not near. “We have a bank of targets that is full, and we want to continue and to create pressure on Hamas,” he said. “This morning, the chief of staff gave us the plans for the next 24 hours, the targets. We will hit anyone who belongs to Hamas, from the first to the last.”
News reports from Gaza indicate that those targets have included several high-rise residential towers, a building that housed offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other news outlets, the main coastal road, electricity pipelines, sewage systems and networks of underground tunnels that militants use to store weapons and hide.
The strike on the media building had drawn particular condemnation, with journalism watchdog groups suggesting it was done in part to block the A.P., which had cameras stationed on the roof, to broadcast images of the destruction being rained on Gaza. Israel had said Hamas militants operated from the building, but on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he had yet to see evidence of that.
“Shortly after the strike we did request additional details regarding the justification for it,” Blinken said during a visit to Copenhagen, Denmark.