Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, May 19, vowed to continue a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, rejecting calls from U.S. President Joe Biden to deescalate the operation that has left hundreds dead.
Netanyahu’s comments marked the first public rift between US and Israel since the fighting began last week
Israel and the US are two staunch allies and comments by Israel’s prime minister could complicate international efforts to reach a cease-fire.
The current fighting between Israel and Hamas began May 10 when the militant group fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
Since then, Israel has pounded Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure, and Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired more than 3,700 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.
At least 227 Palestinians have been killed, including 64 children and 38 women, with 1,620 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have also been killed.
On Wednesday, May 19, militants in Lebanon fired a barrage of rockets into northern Israel, threatening to open up a new front in fighting.
The rocket attack, which drew Israeli artillery fire in response but apparently did not cause any injuries, raised the possibility of dragging Israel into renewed conflict with the powerful Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah to its north.
Biden had previously avoided pressing Israel more directly and publicly to have a cease-fire with Gaza’s Hamas militant rulers. But pressure from the Democratic party has been ramping up on him to intervene more forcefully as other diplomatic efforts also gather strength.
However, on Wednesday, May 19, Biden told Netanyahu “that he expected a significant de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire” the White House said.
After a Wednesday visit to Israel’s military headquarters, Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president,” but said Israel will push ahead “to return the calm and security to citizens of Israel.”