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Diplomats, military speak of truce in two days

Biden speaks with Netanyahu, expresses ‘support for a ceasefire’

US leader reiterates ‘firm support’ for Israel’s right to defend itself; PM says strikes on Strip to continue amid ongoing rocket fire; Erdogan says Biden has blood on his hands

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)

US President Joe Biden spoke Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza, and “expressed his support for a ceasefire.”

It was the third call the two leaders have had since the violence in Gaza erupted and came hours after Netanyahu said he had directed the IDF to continue striking terror targets in Gaza.

Biden “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks,” the White House said, adding that they “discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.”

Biden also called on Netanyahu to “make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the statement said.

The president updated Netanyahu on US engagement with Egypt and other partners to broker a ceasefire. He also welcomed the Israeli government’s “efforts to address inter-communal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem,” the White House said.

Rockets are launched towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 17, 2021. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The two leaders agreed that they and their teams would remain in close touch.

There was no immediate comment on the call from Netanyahu’s office.

Biden’s decision to express support for, but not explicitly demand, a ceasefire was intentional, an administration official familiar with the call said

While Biden and top aides are concerned about the mounting bloodshed and loss of innocent life, the decision not to demand an immediate halt to hostilities reflects White House determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

Earlier Netanyahu directed the IDF to push ahead with Operation Guardian of the Wall.

“We will continue to act as necessary to restore peace and security to all residents of Israel,” he added.

However, a diplomatic source familiar with Egypt’s efforts to broker a ceasefire  told The Times of Israel, “we’re close” and that it could be reached in “two days maximum.”

Channel 12 reported that Egypt told Hamas on Monday evening that if it wants a ceasefire, it needs to stop firing at Israel. The network speculated that this may be the reason why Hamas did not make good on its promise to fire at Tel Aviv in the evening.

Also, Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi told the heads of local governments around the Gaza Strip that the fighting in the enclave will continue for at least the next two days, but will continue “as long as it must.”

“Hamas made a mistake when it conducted that launch eight days ago toward Jerusalem. They didn’t think what happened would happen,” Kohavi said.

“Hamas was surprised by our power and techniques and our achievements. They are being struck very hard. The operation will continue as long as it must,” he said.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi both issued statements after speaking with their American counterparts.

Gantz expressed his “sincere thanks” to the administration and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for “rightly preventing the unjust UN Security Council statement criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

Ashkenazi thanked Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the same matter, telling him that “Israel would continue to act against the Hamas terror organization until peace is restored to the communities in the south and center of the country.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United Arab of Emirates in Paphos, Cyprus, April 16, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou Pool via AP)

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said Biden had “bloody hands” because of his support of Israel in the raging conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The Turkish president’s comments in a nationally televised address represented one of his strongest attacks on Biden since his arrival in the White House in January.

Erdogan had spent the past few months trying to mend relations with Washington and reaching out to other Western allies after a year of sharp disputes.

“You forced us to say this. Because we can not stay silent on this anymore,” he said.

Erdogan accused Israel last week of waging “terrorism” and vowed to rally the world to Gaza’s defense.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party’s lawmakers, in Ankara, Turkey, December 23. 2020 (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

On Monday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was in Ramallah meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials.

Israel has said it intends to press on for now with its attacks against Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza. Blinken signaled Monday that the US was still not joining calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

“We have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire,” Blinken said during a visit to Copenhagen.

“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support,” he said. “And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire.”

The comments contrasted somewhat with ones the top US diplomat made Sunday when he tweeted that “all parties need to deescalate tensions – the violence must end immediately.”

For the third time in a week, the US blocked a joint statement from the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, two diplomats involved in the matter said Sunday.

The draft statement made no explicit mention of Hamas rocket fire in Gaza.

The European Union said Monday it will redouble its efforts to end the surge in violence and seek progress during a special meeting of its foreign ministers on Tuesday.

A streak of light appears as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, on May 16, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

During Sunday’s open meeting of the Security Council, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try and bring an end to this conflict.”

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, some 200 Palestinians have died since the beginning of the fighting, 59 of them children. Israel has said it does not target civilians, and that many of the dead were terrorists or killed by errant Hamas rockets.

On Sunday, 42 Palestinians were reported killed in the deadliest single strike since the violence erupted a week ago. The IDF said it had targeted Hamas infrastructure under the homes of Palestinian civilians.

Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report

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