President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the White House principal deputy press secretary told reporters onboard Air Force One.
“Our focus has not changed,” the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said. “We are working towards a de-escalation.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden wanted the situation to reach a “sustainable calm.”
She said the call, which came before the president departed from Washington to address graduates at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday morning, did not reflect a shift in administration policy as it pertains to a cease-fire.
“This is what we have been calling for for the past eight days,” she said.
Mr. Netanyahu did not give any assurance during the call that Mr. Biden could expect a cease-fire, according to a senior administration official who received a readout of the call shortly after it happened.
After visiting Israeli military headquarters, Mr. Netanyahu said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Still, the president’s call to the Israeli leader added to a growing chorus of international parties urging the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons as the conflict stretched into its 10th day.
France is leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council, but it remains unclear when a resolution will be put to a vote.
Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, diplomats privy to the discussions say, but that has not reduced the intensity of the deadliest fighting in Gaza since 2014.
At least 227 people in Gaza have been killed, including 64 children, and 1,620 have been wounded as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli airstrikes and shelling have destroyed or damaged homes, roads and medical facilities across the territory.
Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns on Wednesday, sending people scurrying for shelter. More than 4,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the conflict began, according to the Israeli military, killing at least 12 Israeli residents.
As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days. Mr. Netanyahu tweeted on Tuesday that the attacks against Hamas would “continue as long as necessary to restore calm to the citizens of Israel.”
A senior Hamas official denied reports that the group had agreed to a cease-fire, but said that talks were ongoing.
Still, with Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis has deepened for the two million people inside Gaza.
The United Nations said that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have damaged schools, power lines, and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. Covid-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.
“There is no safe place in Gaza, where two million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years,” the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.
As Israel has focused its firepower on Hamas’s warren of underground tunnels and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, it has simultaneously been engaged in a parallel clandestine strategy: a targeted killing campaign against Hamas’s military leadership.
Israel has tried several times in the current fighting to kill Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, a spokesman for Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday. Mr. Deif, a shadowy figure who has been atop Israel’s most-wanted list for nearly three decades, has become a symbol of the militant group’s resilience.
“Throughout the operation, we have tried to assassinate Mohammed Deif,” said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman.
Israeli commandos have come close a few times over the years, and Mr. Deif has been wounded, but he has always survived.
A senior Israeli army officer said that Mr. Deif, 55, had played a pivotal role in the latest conflict, including ordering the firing of 130 rockets at Tel Aviv last Wednesday, one of the harshest attacks on Israel’s commercial capital since the fighting began.
Mr. Deif, revered among many Palestinians for his strategic prowess and ability to evade Israeli efforts to kill him, has spent decades underground. He has survived at least eight attempts on his life, including by ambush, bombings of safe houses where he was staying and missiles fired at his car, Israeli intelligence officials said. The officials, like others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details of an active mission.
During those attempts, he has lost an eye and a hand, sustained neurological damage from shrapnel, suffered hearing damage and was left with a limp, according to a current and a former Israeli intelligence official.
A senior Israeli intelligence official said that since the last Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2014, Israel had several opportunities to kill him but had refrained from doing so for fear of setting off a war.
Even before Israel was founded as an independent state in 1948, those fighting for its creation had long engaged in targeted killings. But the program has raised moral quandaries internally and internationally about the ethics of such actions.
In August 2014, Israeli warplanes dropped at least five bombs on a house in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza where Israel believed Mr. Deif was staying. The house was reduced to rubble, and one of his wives, Widad, 28, and their infant son, Ali, were killed, along with another resident and her two teenage sons.
Israel thought that the strike had killed him. Although he survived — and subsequently fell into depression, according to the intelligence official — the attack fanned rumors of a security leak among Hamas’s leadership.
Security experts believe that Mr. Deif avoids detection by eschewing digital devices, using notes and couriers, and limiting his contacts to a tight, secret inner circle.
The commander, born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, rose quickly through the ranks after joining the Islamist organization that became Hamas in the late 1980s. He has orchestrated numerous attacks against Israel, including a series of deadly bus bombings that derailed the peace process in the mid-1990s.
He is also credited with building Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, into a fighting machine that can lob rockets against Israel, deploy commandos for naval missions and outmaneuver Israel in the warren of Gaza’s underground tunnels.
Rocks thrown at doors of a synagogue in Bonn, Germany. Israeli flags burned outside a synagogue in Münster. A convoy of cars in North London from which a man chanted anti-Jewish slurs.
As the conflict in Israel and Gaza extended into a 10th day on Wednesday, recent episodes like these are fanning concerns among Jewish groups and European leaders that the latest strife in the Middle East is spilling over into anti-Semitic words and actions in Europe.
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered on the streets of Paris, Berlin, Vienna and other European cities in mostly peaceful protests over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 212 Palestinians, including 61 children.
Pro-Palestinian activists and organizers say that solidarity with Palestinians should not be confused with anti-Semitism, and they denounce what they say are attempts to use accusations of anti-Semitism to try to shield Israel from criticism. They say they aim to hold Israel accountable for what they characterize as atrocities against Palestinians.
But Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, warned on Tuesday against “geopolitical events 3,000 miles away” being used as a pretext to attack Jews.
“By attacking Jewish targets, they demonstrate they don’t hate Jews because of Israel,” he said, “but rather hate Israel because it is the Jewish homeland.”
In Germany, where historical memory runs especially deep because of the Holocaust, pro-Palestinian rallies have been held in cities across the west of the country and in the capital, Berlin. Several have descended into violence, including anti-Semitic chants, calls for violence against Israel, desecration of memorials to Holocaust victims and attacks on at least two synagogues.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video last Thursday showing protesters in Gelsenkirchen, in western Germany, waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and shouting anti-Jewish slurs. “The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over,” the group wrote. “This is pure anti-Semitism, nothing else!”
The United States on Tuesday criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey over remarks he made about Israel at a news conference this week. They are “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are 5 or 6 years old,” he said, and are “only are satisfied by sucking blood.”
Fears that the latest Middle East conflict will aggravate anti-Semitism have also been pronounced in France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations, and where the situation in the Middle East has previously boiled over into violence on the country’s streets.
In 2014, during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, protesters in Paris and its suburbs targeted synagogues and Jewish shops, lit smoke bombs, and threw stones and bottles at riot police officers. Some chanted “Death to Jews.”
In London over the weekend, thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators marched from Hyde Park to the Israeli Embassy in West London. But in an area of North London with a large Jewish population, members of a convoy of cars honked horns and shouted anti-Jewish sentiments. One man chanted that Jewish “daughters” should be raped. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that four men had been arrested.
Owen Jones, a prominent British columnist who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, warned against conflating Israel’s actions with Jews as a whole.
“If you’re holding British Jews responsible for the crimes committed by the Israeli state, and trying to terrorize Jews because of what is happening in Palestine,” he wrote on Twitter, “you’re not a Palestinian solidarity activist, you’re a nauseating anti-Semite who needs to be comprehensively defeated.”
Foreign workers have long faced precarious living conditions in Israel, especially during military conflict. And on Tuesday, a Hamas rocket attack killed two Thai workers and wounded at least seven others in a packaging house in southern Israel, Thai and Israeli officials said.
Businesses near the border with Gaza are allowed to operate if they have access to a bomb shelter or a safety room, but a local official said the agricultural community where the Thai workers died did not have such a space.
That is often the case with such setups, an expert on foreign labor in Israel said.
“Thai workers come to Israel on temporary programs and live in caravans and containers that are often overcrowded and in poor sanitary conditions,” said Yahel Kurlander, a researcher and the University of Tel Aviv who specializes in Thai workers in Israel.
“These housings don’t have the safety rooms required by law or outlined in the contracts of these workers, who don’t have anywhere to hide,” she added.
Thais make up most of Israel’s agriculture work force, and tens of thousands live in the country as part of an agreement between the two nations. Investigations by news outlets and rights groups have highlighted their squalid living conditions, low pay and dangerous working situations including the spraying of chemicals.
The two workers killed on Tuesday were part of a group of 25 foreigners working at the plant and living in caravans nearby, according to Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster.
Thai workers usually do not speak Hebrew and English, Ms. Kurlander said, and “are among the most vulnerable populations in Israel.”
The workers’ deaths came a week after a Hamas strike killed an Indian woman who worked as a caregiver in Ashkelon. Previous Hamas rocket attacks killed a Thai agricultural worker in Israel in 2014 and injured another in 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a briefing on Wednesday that the recent deaths of the foreign workers were “one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone.”
Israel has likewise been criticized for the killing of civilians in Gaza in military airstrikes. Those strikes in the past 10 days have killed over 200 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,500 others.
An Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian reporter working in Gaza overnight Tuesday, the first journalist to be killed in the latest Israeli bombardment of the territory.
Throughout the 10-day conflict, journalists working in Gaza have faced increasingly perilous conditions and the Israeli government has faced international criticism for endangering their safety.
After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a 12-story building that housed the offices of news organizations including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the United States had raised the issue with the Israeli government.
“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” Ms. Psaki wrote.
Although the building was evacuated, the A.P. said that it had “narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”
The journalist killed overnight Tuesday, Yusef Abu Hussein, was a Gaza City resident who worked as a radio journalist at the Hamas-run Aqsa Voice station. The assault also killed three other Palestinians, according to the local news media.
On Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed a building that housed the offices of Nawa Online Women Media Network, a news platform affiliated with a women’s rights and youth organization, according to a Facebook post from the outlet.
“In less than a week, Israel has bombed the offices of at least 18 media outlets,” Ignacio Miguel Delgado, the Middle East and North Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s difficult to reach any conclusion other than that the Israeli military wants to shut down news coverage of the suffering in Gaza.”
On Tuesday, Israeli forces assaulted a Palestinian reporter while she was filming an arrest in East Jerusalem, according to her employer, the website Middle East Eye.
In a video shared on social media, the reporter, Latifeh Abdellatif, appears in a heated interaction with two Israeli officers before one of them pushes her. Middle East Eye said the officers had then pulled down Ms. Abdellatif’s hijab and struck her knee with a baton.
Several reporters were also injured in separate incidents last week, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That included at least seven injured by rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers trying to remove demonstrators from the Temple Mount on May 7, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Nasser Nasser/Associated Press
Corinna Kern for The New York Times
Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press
Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press
Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories rallied together in solidarity on Tuesday. A general strike was followed by street demonstrations.
The Israeli Embassy in Beijing criticized the Chinese state news media on Wednesday for spreading what it called “lies and racism” in a segment that said successful Jewish businesspeople had too much influence on American foreign policy.
In a video posted to its official Twitter account on Tuesday, the overseas arm of China’s state-owned China Central Television asked why the United States has defended Israel. “Jews dominate finance, media and the internet,” said a reporter for CGTN, the state broadcaster. “So do they have the powerful lobby that some say? Possible.”
In a response posted on Twitter on Wednesday, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing said that it was “disappointed to see these types of messages,” and that it hoped CGTN would “take down this insulting video that spreads lies and racism.”
During Israel’s bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip this month, China has spoken out against the Biden administration’s support for Israel. President Biden has not publicly called on Israeli forces to halt their attacks, which Israel says are aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure in Gaza, although on he took a tougher stance in a phone call with President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, led a meeting on Sunday to discuss the conflict at the United Nations Security Council, where China holds the rotating presidency this month. Mr Wang called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, a crowded coastal territory where more than two million Palestinians live.
The Chinese state news media has condemned the United States for its support of Israel, accusing it of hypocrisy in going after the Chinese government for human rights abuses in Xinjiang while not coming to the aid of Palestinians in the Gaza conflict. In an editorial this week, the Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, wrote that the Biden administration was “slapping its own face as it shows indifference to the human rights of Palestinians.”
“It holds the banner of ‘human rights’ high as the core of this administration’s foreign policy,” the editorial continued, but “turns a blind eye when the human rights of Palestinians are trampled on.”
Since May 10, fighting has left more than 200 people dead in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most are Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, a densely packed coastal enclave of about two million people, while deadly unrest has also flared in the West Bank and Israel. Explore the toll of the violence in this multimedia report.
Since violence between Israelis and Palestinians began escalating last week, at least 100 new WhatsApp groups have been formed for the express purpose of committing violence against Palestinians, according to an analysis by The New York Times and FakeReporter, an Israeli watchdog group that studies misinformation.
The groups on WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service owned by Facebook, have names like “The Jewish Guard” and “The Revenge Troops” and have added hundreds of new members a day, according to The Times’s analysis.
The groups, which are in Hebrew, have also been featured on email lists and online message boards used by far-right extremists in Israel.
While social media and messaging apps have been used elsewhere to fuel hate speech and violence, these WhatsApp groups go further, researchers said. They explicitly plan and execute violent acts against Arab Israelis.
That is far more specific than past WhatsApp-fueled mob attacks in India, where calls for violence were vague and generally not targeted at individuals or businesses, the researchers said. Even the Stop the Steal groups in the United States that organized the Jan. 6 protests in Washington did not openly direct attacks using social media or messaging apps, they said.
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers have overwhelmingly called for an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.
In an emergency meeting on Tuesday, all of the bloc’s member states except Hungary backed a statement that also condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel and supported Israel’s right to self-defense but cautioned that it “has to be done in a proportional manner and respecting international humanitarian law,” said the E.U.’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell Fontelles.
He said that the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, “including a high number of women and children,” was “unacceptable.” And he said that the European Union — as part of the quartet with the United States, Russia and the United Nations that seeks peace in the Middle East — would push to relaunch a serious diplomatic process.
“The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a cease-fire,” Mr. Borrell said.
Foreign policy in the European Union works by unanimity, so Mr. Borrell’s comments were an effort, he said, “to reflect the overall agreement.”
In general, European governments have supported Israel and its right to self-defense against barrages of rockets aimed at civilians. Yet as the fighting has continued, key European countries have pressed for a quick cease-fire, including Germany, which is traditionally a strong backer of Israel.
On Monday, speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
But given the civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”
France, the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from the E.U., has also pressed for a cessation of the fighting. On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said that after consultations with Egypt and Jordan, France had drafted a cease-fire resolution to be voted on by the 15-member Security Council. The timing of a vote, and whether the resolution would have U.S. support, remained uncertain.
A statement from the presidential Élysée Palace said that France, Egypt and Jordan had “agreed on three simple elements: The shooting must stop, the time has come for a cease-fire and the U.N. Security Council must take up the issue.”
Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, confronted President Biden on Tuesday over his support for Israel amid its bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, urging him to stop enabling a government that she said was committing crimes against Palestinians, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange.
During a conversation on a tarmac in Detroit, where Mr. Biden had arrived to visit a Ford factory near her congressional district, Ms. Tlaib echoed a scathing speech she delivered last week on the House floor, telling the president that he must do more to protect Palestinian lives and human rights, said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe her remarks.
Her comments came as Israel has scaled up its bombing campaign in the past week. Among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel have grown more skeptical as the party base expresses concern about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Several high-profile progressive lawmakers including Ms. Tlaib have become increasingly vocal in criticizing Mr. Biden for his stance.
There was no immediate comment on the exchange from the White House.
Mr. Biden has expressed support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, but he has not demanded one, and he has continued to assert that Israel has a right to defend itself.
Ms. Tlaib told the president that the status quo was enabling more killing, and that his policy of unconditional support for the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not working, the aide said.
Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, whose district is home to the Ford F-150 factory that Mr. Biden was visiting and who also greeted him on his arrival, later said that the exchange on the tarmac was part of “an important dialogue.”
“It was a very compassionate, honest discussion,” she said in a brief interview. “But the president doesn’t deal with these kinds of issues in public, and he doesn’t negotiate in public.”
Mr. Biden shook Ms. Tlaib’s hand after the conversation, and later praised the congresswoman during his public remarks at the factory in Dearborn.
“I admire your intellect, I admire your passion and I admire your concern for so many other people,” Mr. Biden said before referring to Ms. Tlaib’s grandmother Muftia Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank. “From my heart, I pray that your grandmom and family are well. I promise you, I’ll do everything to see that they are.”
Our Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, examined the events that have led to the past week’s violence, the worst between Israelis and Palestinians in years. A little-noticed police action in Jerusalem was among them. He writes:
Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.
It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.
Here is his full account of that night and the events that later unfolded.