According to two officials familiar with the cease-fire talks, Israel has so far declined entreaties from outside mediators, including Egyptians, that it agree to a halt. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations. Israeli military and political leaders have said they intend to do as much damage as possible to Hamas’s military infrastructure before taking a pause.
By Monday evening, President Biden had added his voice to those calling for a cease-fire, urging both Israel and Hamas to “protect innocent civilians.” This subtle rebuke of Israel, a close U.S. ally, came during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House said Biden also “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks.”
Starting shortly after midnight, Israeli warplanes carried out a fierce series of airstrikes across Gaza early Monday, sending balls of fire into the night sky. In the span of 20 minutes, 54 jets struck about 35 sites, the Israeli military reported, saying the intended targets included several top Hamas commanders and nearly 10 miles of the militant group’s tunnel network. The military also said it had killed the commander of Islamic Jihad forces in northern Gaza, Hasam Abu Harbid.
Israeli jets also destroyed a mattress factory in northern Gaza shortly after dawn. Video circulating on social media showed plumes of black smoke pouring from the facility. An airstrike Monday on a building in central Gaza City damaged the nearby al-Rimal Clinic, which housed Gaza’s only coronavirus testing lab, according to Palestinian media.
Earlier, Hamas had vowed to continue its rocket attacks as retaliation for the Israeli strike that killed 42 people, including 10 children, on a main road near Shifa Hospital in Gaza City early Sunday. The Israeli military said that strike — believed to be the single deadliest attack in eight days of fighting — was meant to destroy crucial junctions in the large Hamas tunnel system, used to move fighters, rockets and other weapons.
Since the fighting began on May 10, Israeli forces have struck 766 targets in the Gaza Strip, the military said. Over the same period, it said 3,200 rockets have been fired at Israeli territory.
The death toll in Gaza reached 212 on Monday, including at least 61 children and 36 women, said local Health Ministry officials. In the West Bank, at least 15 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces since Friday, officials there said. In Israel, 10 people have died, including a disabled Israeli man killed Saturday in a rocket strike in a Tel Aviv suburb.
The pace of Hamas rocket fire has slowed over the past two days, an Israeli military spokesman said. But he noted that significant salvos were launched Monday against the Israeli cities of Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon. A senior Israeli military officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said military officials see no evidence that Hamas is ready to end its attacks. Israel is prepared for a prolonged conflict, the officer said.
After meeting Monday evening with top security officials, Netanyahu said Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza, the Associated Press reported. “We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens,” he said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi called for the “cessation of all violence and hostilities” as his country opened the border with Gaza on Sunday to allow for the passage of people in need of medical care.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II also said his kingdom was involved in “intensive contacts” to halt the fighting, Reuters reported, quoting state media. And the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he called on Pope Francis to help end what the Turkish leader described as Israel’s “massacre” of Palestinians, according to Agence France-Presse.
Biden’s conversation with Netanyahu, and the president’s call for a cease-fire, came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier in the day had stopped short of calling for the end of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. “We are ready to lend support if the parties seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said at a news conference in Copenhagen as part of an unrelated tour of Nordic countries.
When asked why the United States would not sign onto efforts at the United Nations to advance a cease-fire, Blinken said, “We are not standing in the way of diplomacy.”
“The question is: Will any given action, or any given statement, as a practical matter, end the violence?” he said. “If we think there’s something, including at the United Nations, that would advance that, we’d be for it.” For days, the United States, a staunch protector of Israel at the United Nations, has blocked efforts by China, Tunisia and Norway to move the Security Council to make a statement, including a call for a cessation of hostilities.
Blinken’s qualified support for a cease-fire — only if the parties themselves agree — was interpreted as an accommodation of Israel’s desire to continue hitting Hamas targets in Gaza. “It’s a pretty clear signal to Israel that it has time to finish the job on its terms,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group.
Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. official who has advised both Republican and Democratic administrations on Middle East issues, said waiting on Hamas or Israel to endorse a cease-fire is a recipe for further violence. “The longer this goes on, the greater danger of a mass casualty event either by errant Hamas rockets or Israeli air/artillery,” he said. “Biden is clearly giving Netanyahu the time and space and political support.”
“Clearly, Biden et al have had conversations with Netanyahu about his timeline for ending this,” he said. “And the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] isn’t done yet.”
Israeli officials have continued to defend the Saturday airstrike on the multistory building in Gaza City that housed the AP, Al Jazeera and other media outlets.
On Sunday, the AP’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike. Buzbee, who will take over as executive editor of The Washington Post next month, said the Israeli government has not provided clear evidence to justify its attack, which leveled the 12-story al-Jalaa tower. Blinken said Monday that Washington had requested “additional details” from Israel on its justification for destroying the building. He declined to characterize any of the information Israel has provided.
Netanyahu, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building. On Monday, a senior Israeli military official said the Hamas operations were on too many floors to allow for a targeted strike and so the entire building was targeted. Media groups bear responsibility for sharing space with militant operations, said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to give background. “The only thing we’re saying is next time make sure your neighbors are not Hamas,” the officer said.
After several nights of violence in Israeli towns with mixed Arab and Jewish populations, streets were mostly quiet on Sunday night, and that calm continued into Monday evening.
A 56-year-old Israeli man died Monday following injuries sustained from being hit on the head by a brick during clashes last week in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Police also arrested a suspect in a firebomb attack in the ancient port city of Jaffa late Friday that left a 12-year-old boy seriously burned. They described the suspect as a 20-year-old man from Jaffa but declined to release additional details. The attack took place amid clashes between Arab Israelis and right-wing Jewish Israelis.
Shira Rubin and Loveday Morris in Tel Aviv, Miriam Berger in Jerusalem and John Hudson in Copenhagen contributed to this report.