President Joe Biden ramped up pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the fighting with Hamas, during a conversation on Wednesday, telling the Israeli leader that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” according to a readout of the phone call.
The White House said 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.”
This is the fourth time that Biden and Netanyahu have spoken in recent days. The Times of Israel notes that, unlike the previous three calls, “the readout made no mention of Biden backing Israel’s right to defend itself, which critics said was a nod to Israel to continue striking in Gaza.”
Following their last call on Monday, the White House said that Biden had expressed support for a cease-fire, but did not demand a specific timeline. Earlier this week, administration officials told CNN their goal was to keep pressuring Israel in private conversations rather than making public demands.
This change in tone highlights the sense of urgency that has risen as the fighting between Israel and Hamas enters its second week.
At least 219 Palestinians, 63 of them children, and 12 Israelis, including a 5-year-old boy, have died, the AP reports.
Infrastructure damage has only intensified the crisis. According to the New York Times, ongoing rocket strikes have “damaged 17 hospitals and clinics in Gaza, wrecked its only coronavirus test laboratory, sent fetid wastewater into its streets and broke water pipes serving at least 800,000 people.”
Calls for a cease-fire in the region have escalated, especially within Biden’s own party. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia led a group of 27 Democratic senators, including two Independents that caucus with Democrats, to publicly push for a halt to the fighting in a joint statement released Sunday.
“To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate cease-fire,” the statement read.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued her own statement on the conflict on Tuesday, calling Israel a “friend and ally” and saying that Hamas “exploited a volatile situation to initiate hostilities against Israel,” but she still called for an end to the violence.
“Now, after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more apparent that a cease-fire is necessary. There must be a serious effort on the part of both parties to end the violence and respect the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” Pelosi said. “It is with respect for Israeli and Palestinian lives that leaders must strive for peace through a negotiated two-state solution.”
Netanyahu has given no public indication that he intends to heed American calls for de-escalation. After Biden’s call on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president,” but Israel will keep pushing “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.” He added that he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”