US President Joe Biden has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to de-escalate tensions in the Gaza conflict “on the path” to a ceasefire.
“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,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday.
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“The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” Jean-Pierre added.
It was the fourth call in the past week between the US and Israeli leaders.
Citing an unnamed official, The Associated Press news agency reported that Biden and administration officials have been encouraging Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials to wind down the bombardment of Gaza.
According to the report, Biden administration officials underscored to the Israelis on Monday and Tuesday that time is not on their side in terms of international objections to days of Israeli air attacks and Hamas rockets, and that it is in their interest to wind down the operations soon.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Biden had taken on a “sharper” tone with Netanyahu during Monday’s call, telling him that he could ward off criticism of the attacks on Gaza for only a limited time.
The accounts show Biden administration officials going further privately in messaging to Netanyahu than they have previously revealed. A White House readout of a Biden call to Netanyahu on Monday said Biden had expressed support for a ceasefire, but reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and said nothing about the US urging Israel to bring the fighting to a close.
On Wednesday, Israel said it was not setting a timeframe for an end to hostilities with Gaza as its military pounded the Palestinian enclave with air attacks and Hamas militants unleashed new cross-border rocket attacks.
In a sign of diplomatic movement, however, an Egyptian security source told the Reuters news agency the two sides had agreed to a ceasefire in principle after help from mediators, but details were being negotiated in secret amid public denials of a deal to prevent it from collapsing.
Palestinian medical officials said 219 people have been killed in 10 days of aerial bombardments which have destroyed roads, buildings and other infrastructure, and worsened the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Israeli authorities put the death toll at 12 in Israel, where rocket attacks have caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.