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

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC on May 17, 2021.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

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 has led to at least 219 Palestinian deaths, 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.

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. On Tuesday, the European Union became the latest international power to call for a cease-fire as the civilian death toll in Gaza mounts.

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, who is slated to address the nation’s newest Coast Guard officers on Wednesday, 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.

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