Biden seeks ‘significant de-escalation’ on Palestine situation

In call with Israeli PM, U.S. President backs ceasefire; Russia warns against further civilian casualties

U.S. President Joe Biden told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects “significant de-escalation” on Wednesday in the military confrontation with the Palestinians, amid intense efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Deafening air strikes and rocket fire once more shook Gaza in the conflict that has, since May 10, claimed 219 Palestinian lives according to the Gaza Health Ministry and killed 12 people in Israel according to Israeli police.

“The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” the White House said after a fourth phone call in a little over a week.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it warned the Israeli Ambassador on Wednesday that “actions that lead to a further increase in civilian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable”, according to Reuters. As diplomatic efforts intensified to stem the bloodshed, Germany said its top diplomat was heading to Israel for talks on Thursday. Mr. Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday issued a tough threat against the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas, who Israel says has fired around 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10.

“You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence,” he told foreign envoys. “But I have to say we don’t rule out anything.”

Ceasefire possibility

But an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a separate briefing that Israel was assessing at what stage it may stop its military campaign. “We are looking at when is the right moment for a ceasefire,” said the source.

Israel was evaluating whether its objective of degrading Hamas’ capabilities had been achieved, the military source said, and “whether Hamas understands the message” that its rocket barrages towards Israel cannot recur.

Warplanes hit Gaza City again in the pre-dawn hours, as the Israeli military kept targeting militant leaders and infrastructure in the crowded enclave which has been under Israeli blockade for nearly 15 years.

Meanwhile, Israel fired artillery at targets in Lebanon after four rockets were launched towards Israel from Lebanese territory on Wednesday, the Israeli military said, and a source said Hezbollah was not involved. It was the third incident of rocket fire from Lebanon since hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza flared up.

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