Biden tells Israel’s Netanyahu U.S. expects ‘a significant de-escalation today’ in Gaza

Key Points
  • President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday he expects "a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire."
  • It was their fourth conversation since the violence erupted between Israel and Hamas nine days earlier, the worst fighting between the two sides since 2014.
  • Netanyahu said he is "determined to continue this operation until its objective is achieved" after speaking with Biden.
  • More than 130 Democratic members of the U.S. House signed a letter calling for Biden to "facilitate the immediate cessation of violence."
Israel-Gaza bombings rage on as President Biden's cease-fire call goes ignored

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call Wednesday that he expects "a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire," the White House said.

It was their fourth conversation since the violence erupted between Israel and Hamas nine days earlier.

Israel's strikes on the Gaza Strip have led to at least 227 Palestinian deaths including 64 children and 38 women, according to authorities there. Israel has said more than 3,400 rockets have bombarded its cities and towns. At least 12 people have died in Israel.

"The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire," according to the White House readout of the call.

In a statement after speaking with Biden, Netanyahu said he is "determined to continue in this operation until its objective is achieved — to bring back the quiet and security to…citizens of Israel," according to The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media outlets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel May 19, 2021.
Sebastian Scheiner | Reuters

The latest round of fighting has marked the worst outbreak of violence since the war between Israel and Hamas in 2014. Biden faces growing pressure from his own party to do more to end the violence.

More than 130 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday signed a letter "strenuously" urging the president to "boldly lead and take decisive action to end the violence" by pressing both sides to negotiate a cease-fire.

"Too many people have already died. More will unnecessarily perish if America does not act with the immediacy this violence demands," according to the letter signed by House Democrats.

In Tel Aviv, Netanyahu briefed foreign diplomats and ambassadors on the worsening violence and reiterated previous claims that the Israeli military tries "to target those who target us with great precision."

"There is no army in the world that does more than the Israeli army, in the Israeli security services, in Israeli intelligence to prevent collateral damage," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu added that Hamas "is embedded deeply in civilian areas" in order to use civilians as human shields. Diplomatic representatives from the U.S., European Union and ambassadors from Russia, China, India, Germany, Austria, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Canada and Italy attended the briefing, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

The dramatic escalation of tensions followed protests over the potential eviction of Palestinian families from a neighborhood in east Jerusalem by Israel's Supreme Court. In Jerusalem on May 7, Israeli security forces clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians near Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site in advance of a court hearing three days later in the eviction case. With tensions rising, the high court delayed the hearing in the case brought by right-wing Israelis.

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a building, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza City May 18, 2021.
Mohammed Salem | Reuters

"We have had over 60 calls, from the president on down, with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and other leaders in the region," White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"The president has done this for a long time, for decades, he believes this is the approach we need to be taking. He wants to make sure we end the violence and the suffering we have seen for the Palestinian and Israeli people," Jean-Pierre added.

When pressed for more details of the call, Jean-Pierre said she would let the formal readout "speak for itself."

Biden told Netanyahu earlier in the week that the U.S. supported a cease-fire amid a call from 28 Democratic senators for an immediate end to the violence.

"The President reiterated his firm support for Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks. The President welcomed efforts to address intercommunal violence and to bring calm to Jerusalem," according to a White House readout of that call.

People look at an unexploded missile thrown by Israel in al-Rimal neighborhood as Israeli warplanes continue to carry out airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza on May 18, 2021.
Ashraf Amra | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Biden also called on Israel to ensure the protection of innocent civilians amid the conflict.

On Sunday, Israel conducted a strike that leveled several homes in the Gaza Strip. The strike, the deadliest yet in the ongoing conflict, killed at least 42 people.

Netanyahu defended a punishing airstrike Saturday that collapsed a 12-story building housing international media, alleging Hamas was using a portion of the building to plan terror attacks.

Middle East security director on the continued violence in Gaza, Israel