Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on with operations against Gaza’s ruling Hamas militants after US President Joe Biden urged him to seek a “de-escalation” in the 10-day conflict.
An Egyptian security source said the two sides had agreed in principle to a ceasefire after help from mediators although details were still being negotiated in secret amid public denials of a deal to prevent it from collapsing. Earlier, Israel shut border crossings allowing in humanitarian and fuel supplies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was hopeful a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians would pass at the Security Council and that discussions were being held to persuade the US.
Mr Le Drian told a parliamentary committee there was a chance of success but added: “It’s not done yet.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed that he will make a one-day trip to Israel and the West Bank on Thursday for talks with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Palestinian medical officials said that since fighting began on May 10, 227 people had been killed in aerial bombardments that have destroyed roads, buildings and other infrastructure and worsened the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
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Israeli authorities put the death toll at 12 in Israel, where repeated rocket attacks have caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly hailed what he has described as support from the United States, Israel’s main ally, for a right to self-defence in battling rocket attacks from Gaza.
Biden puts Netanyahu on notice
But Mr Biden put the Israeli leader on notice in a telephone call that it was time to lower the intensity of the conflict.
“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.
“The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”
But America rejects French peace plan
Meanwhile, the US mission to the United Nations says it “will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate” violence between Israel and Palestinian militants when asked about a French push for a Security Council resolution.
France on Tuesday called for such a move and is expected to circulate a draft text to council members as early as Wednesday (local time), diplomats said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday he hoped the 15-member body could vote as soon as possible. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, the United States or the United Kingdom to pass.
The US has traditionally shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations.
Netanyahu says Israel will continue
In a statement released soon after her comments, Mr Netanyahu said: “I am determined to continue this operation until its objective is achieved – to restore quiet and security to you, the citizens of Israel.”
Earlier, in remarks reported by Israeli media from a closed question-and-answer session with foreign envoys to Israel, Mr Netanyahu was quoted as saying: “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”
In response to Mr Biden’s de-escalation call, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassam said those who sought to restore calm must “compel Israel to end its aggression in Jerusalem and its bombardment of Gaza”.
Once that happened, Mr Qassam said, “there can be room to talk about arrangements to restore calm”.
Hamas began firing rockets on May 10 in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Hamas continues rocket attacks
The rocket attacks followed Israeli security police clashes with worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from a neighbourhood in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
In a 25-minute attack overnight into Wednesday, Israel bombarded targets including what its military said were tunnels in southern Gaza used by Hamas.
About 50 rockets were fired from the enclave, the Israeli military said, with sirens sounding in the coastal city of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, and in areas closer to the Gaza border.
There were no reports of injuries or damage overnight but days of rocket fire have unsettled many Israelis.
Nearly 450 buildings in densely populated Gaza have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres, and more than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced, the UN humanitarian agency said.
The damage has left large craters and piles of rubble across the coastal enclave.
“Whoever wants to learn about the humanity of the (Israelis) should come to the Gaza Strip and look at the houses that got destroyed on top of those who lived in them,” said university lecturer Ahmed al-Astal, standing by the rubble of his house in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
He said there had been no warning before his home was destroyed in an air strike before dawn.
Israel says it issues warnings to evacuate buildings that are to be fired on and that it attacks only what it regards as military targets.