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Biden tells Netanyahu he expects “de-escalation” in Gaza conflict

▶ Watch Video: Violence across the West Bank as Palestinian protestors clashed with Israeli forces

Washington — President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire” in the conflict in Gaza, the White House said. Mr. Biden previously expressed support for a ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has led to the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children, and at least 12 Israelis.

“President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today. The two leaders 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,” the White House said in a readout of the call. “The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

Mr. Biden has faced pressure to speak out against the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, as the number of Palestinian civilians killed or wounded far outpaces the number of Israeli victims hurt or killed by Hamas rocket attacks. The president was met with protests in a visit to Dearborn, Michigan, on Tuesday, which has a large Arab-American population. Mr. Biden spoke for several minutes with Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, about the conflict on Tuesday.

The Israeli assault on Gaza continued overnight into Wednesday, with the Israeli military saying it struck dozens of underground Hamas targets. Hamas and its allies in turn fired at least 50 rockets from Gaza into Israel, some of which fell short, the Israeli military said.

Hamas laid out its terms for a cease-fire on Wednesday, saying it would stop firing rockets only if Israel met two conditions: Israeli forces and police must never enter the al-Aqsa mosque, and Palestinians living in a disputed neighborhood in east Jerusalem must not be evicted by Jewish settlers. 

The Israeli military would not comment on a potential ceasefire on Wednesday. On Sunday, Netanyahu told “Face the Nation” that Israel would do “whatever it takes” to degrade Hamas’ ability to fire rockets into Israeli territory and signaled that the operation could be lengthy. But he has shifted his tone in recent days, saying on Tuesday that he was “holding assessments of the situation and we are making decisions.”

On Capitol Hill, nearly 30 Senate Democrats and Republican Senator Todd Young have also called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks, in a manner proportionate with the threat its citizens are facing. As a result of Hamas’ rocket attacks and Israel’s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further,” Young and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said in a statement over the weekend.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the Biden administration has approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks and ranking member Michael McCaul informally approved the sale in April, McCaul told reporters on Tuesday, and were given official notification by the White House last week. Meeks said that there would be a meeting between members of the House and Biden administration officials to discuss the response to the conflict on Wednesday.

The United Nations’ humanitarian agency said on Tuesday that Israeli strikes had destroyed at least 132 buildings and left 316 severely damaged, displacing more than 52,000 Palestinians — many of whom had sought shelter at Gaza’s U.N.-run schools.

Haley Ott and Imtiaz Tyab contributed reporting.



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