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As Biden Joins Ceasefire Calls, Israel Vows to 'Continue Striking'

Newsweek logo Newsweek 5/18/2021 Tom O'Connor
Joe Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu posing for a photo: Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during joint statements in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 9, 2016. © DEBBIE HILL/AFP/Getty Images Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during joint statements in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 9, 2016.

President Joe Biden has joined growing international calls for a ceasefire in the worsening conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian factions operation out of the Gaza Strip.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on with his campaign against enemy fighters.

In his third call with the Israeli leader since rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians erupted a week ago into the worst conflagration among rival forces in years, Biden "reiterated his firm support for Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks" launched by a coalition of Palestinian groups led by the Hamas movement, and "welcomed efforts to address intercommunal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem" amid deadly sectarian unrest.

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Biden also "encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians" as the Palestinian death toll soared past 200.

As the two men "discussed progress in Israel's military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza," Biden for the first time since fighting broke out "expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end."

The White House and State Department have signaled in recent days that U.S. officials were in touch with counterparts from a number of regional countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, in which all parties expressed calls for calm and an end to the fighting. The administration had, however, avoided using the term ceasefire until now.

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington has "made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire."

Israeli officials, however, have been adamant about the need to first ensure the degrading of the military capabilities of Hamas and allied factions like Palestinian Islamic Jihad before operations would be called off or even halted.


Video: Biden supports cease-fire as deadly Israel-Hamas attacks intensify (NBC News)

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Netanyahu stated the campaign would continue in remarks delivered following consultations with lead security officials including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabat.

"The directive is to continue striking at the terrorist targets," Netanyahu said. "The IDF is doing this very well."

The Israeli leader hailed recent strikes targeting enemy senior personnel such as top Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Hussam Abu Harbid, and enemy capabilities including Hamas' naval units and underground tunnel network, known to the IDF as "the metro."

"We will continue to operate as long as needed to restore quiet and security to all Israelis," Netanyahu said.

The Israeli commander-in-chief's words were later echoed by Kochavi. He praised the work of the IDF Southern Command leadership, whose tenacity in striking at Hamas amid a barrage of what Israeli estimates place at some 3,350 missiles, many of which have been intercepted by the Iron Dome, he said caught the Palestinian side off guard.

"Hamas was surprised by our strength, methods and achievements, and they are now suffering severe consequences," Kovachi said. "This operation will continue as long as necessary."

A Hamas spokesperson outlined to Newsweek the demands of the coalition of Gaza-based forces called the Palestinian Joint Operations Room, whose "goals are to have the Israeli occupation authorities accept our demands."

These objectives include "giving free access to worshipers from all parts of Palestine to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque without restriction or harassment by the Israeli police or the Israeli settlers and halting the attempts to expel the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah."

The current conflagration between in the decades-long conflict can be traced back to a court case in which Israeli families attempted to evict Palestinian inhabitants of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Israel-occupied East Jerusalem. Unrest mounted, culminating in an Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, sparking outrage across the Muslim World and threats of rocket fire that Hamas ultimately made good on.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.

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