In their second call in just a few days as the Gaza death toll soars amid unrelenting Israeli airstrikes, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he expects a "significant de-escalation" in violence which can open a window for a ceasefire soon.
According to the White House call readout, the two leaders held "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," after which "The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire."
It appears the building international pressure as well as domestic pressure from progressives within the Democratic party is belatedly pushing Biden to get firmer in his rhetoric. After ten days of fighting, Gaza's Health Ministry has counted about 220 deaths, with about one-third of them children, with Israel saying 12 of its civilians have died due to Hamas rocket fire.
During a Monday phone call with Netanyahu Biden had stopped short of outright demanding de-escalation, only vaguely expressing "support" for a ceasefire.
As The Hill notes of the new communication between the two close allies: "Wednesday was the first time that Biden set a deadline on when he would like to see a reduction in violence, which has persisted in the Middle East for more than a week and led to Israeli and Palestinian civilian deaths."
Netanyahu's response in the first phone call had been that he wanted to "complete all the goals of the Gaza operation" before there was any chance of ceasefire. On Wednesday widespread reports are saying that Israel's shelling and airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have actually intensified.
Meanwhile there's been further worrisome escalation along Israel's northern border with Lebanon:
So far there's been no indicator that Netanyahu plans to heed Biden's Wednesday plea, given the Israeli PM in public remarks made before Israeli diplomats on Wednesday said the military is engaged in "forceful deterrence" to prevent future conflict with Hamas...
"There are only two ways that you can deal with them," Netanyahu told the ambassadors at a military base in Tel Aviv.
"You can either conquer them, and that's always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don't rule out anything."
Among the now 60+ Gaza children killed in Israeli airstrikes this May were 11 kids receiving psycho-social care from the Norwegian Refugee Council to help them deal with trauma https://t.co/n1YSOpR7d3— Evan Hill (@evanchill) May 18, 2021
Reuters notes that the speech made "no mention" of any intention to halt the airstrikes in Gaza, which has also witnessed ground forces deploy to the border to engage in security operations aimed at crushing Hamas and Islamic Jihad's command structure and capabilities.