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Home World Biden Supports Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire, as Fighting Rages Into Second Week

Biden Supports Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire, as Fighting Rages Into Second Week

President Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday. The president “expressed his support for a cease-fire” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a call with Israel’s prime minister, the White House said.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden expressed support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas on Monday during a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

In a readout of Mr. Biden’s call, White House officials said the president “expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end.”

The statement fell short of an immediate demand for an end to Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, which has been met with rocket fire by Hamas from Gaza into Israel. The White House also said Mr. Biden “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks.”

The Biden administration had previously avoided the use of the term “cease-fire,” with top officials like Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken talking instead about the need for a “sustainable calm” and others talking about the need for “restraint.”

While a cease-fire would be welcomed by the White House, Mr. Netanyahu has in recent days made clear that he intended to continue bombing until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s stockpile of rockets, launchers, and the tunnels from which Hamas fighters are operating.

“The directive is to continue striking at the terrorist targets,” Mr. Netanyahu said on Monday after meeting with Israeli security officials. “We will continue to take whatever action necessary in order to restore quiet and security for all the residents of Israel.”

By late Monday, the Israeli bombardment had killed 212 people in Gaza, and Hamas rockets had killed at least 10 in Israel. Hamas had fired almost as many rockets in eight days — 3,350, the Israeli military said — as it did in the 50-day war the two sides fought in 2014.

So far, Israel has resisted efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to broker a cease-fire. And Hamas has continued its rocket fire into Israel.

In his conversations with Mideast leaders, Mr. Biden has tried to move the United States to a more neutral role as a peacemaker, after four years of former President Donald J. Trump favoring Israel.

On Saturday, the White House pointed to Mr. Biden’s recent “decision to resume assistance to the Palestinian people, including economic and humanitarian assistance to benefit Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza” and renewed his call for “a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution.”

Twenty-seven Democratic senators and two independents who caucus with Democrats — a majority of Mr. Biden’s party in the Senate — signed a letter led by Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia on Sunday calling for “an immediate cease-fire.”

On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters that the administration would not reveal all the details of Mr. Biden’s communications with leaders in the conflict. “Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy,” she said. “That is how we feel we can be most effective.”


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Israeli warplanes unleashed an air bombardment on Gaza City before dawn on Monday, bringing the conflict into the second week of bloodshed and destruction.CreditCredit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

As the grinding and increasingly bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas militants moved into the second week, the violence showed no signs of abating as Israel pounded targets in Gaza overnight and Hamas continued to unleash a barrage of rockets at towns across southern Israel.

Diplomatic efforts appeared stalled as the level of destruction was quickly escalating to the kind of violence not seen since the last major conflict in 2014.

That conflict, with a seven-week invasion of Gaza by Israel and Hamas rocket fire, ultimately claimed 2,200 lives, rendered large areas of the Gaza Strip uninhabitable and paralyzed Israel’s south.

On that occasion, it took nearly three months for Israelis and Palestinians to broker a peace and reach an open-ended cease-fire. Mr. Netanyahu, speaking on Sunday, warned that the current operation would “take time.”

The current conflict has already settled into a steady if deadly routine, with two main battles being waged: one in the skies above Gaza and another in the tunnels below.

Israeli experts often describe periodic campaigns as “mowing the grass,” a kind of routine maintenance of the militant threat with the aim of curbing rocket fire, destroying as much of militant groups’ infrastructure as possible and increasing deterrence. Critics say the use of such terminology is dehumanizing to Palestinians and tends to minimize the suffering inflicted, including the toll on civilians.

And the dangers of the strategy became evident on Sunday, the deadliest day of the fighting, with at least 42 people killed, including at least 10 children, after an attack on a tunnel network caused three buildings to collapse. That strike badly damaged a medical clinic run by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, forcing it to close, and others have done damage to other medical facilities.

In the past week, Israeli strikes in Gaza have killed 212 people, including 61 children, and wounded about 1,400, according to the health authorities there, drawing condemnation across the world and leading to protests that have taken place in recent days in cities including Baghdad, Berlin and London. Rocket fire from Gaza has killed at least 10 people in Israel.

Much of the Israeli assault has been directed at a network of tunnels under Gaza used by Hamas, which controls the territory, to move people and equipment — a subterranean transit system that the Israeli military refers to as the “metro.”

The Israeli Army said that in its “third wave” of attacks on the network early Monday, it employed 54 warplanes, releasing 110 rockets and bombs on around 35 targets for some 20 minutes.

Warplanes also targeted the homes of Hamas’s military leaders, the Israeli military said. At least some of those strikes landed near a row of hotels in a built-up area of Gaza City, forcing some guests into a bomb shelter

But even under sustained military bombardment, Hamas militants based in Gaza still managed to unleash a barrage of missiles into southern Israel — more than 3,100 since the start of the conflict a week ago, according to the Israeli military. Many of the rockets were intercepted by the Israeli defense system known as the Iron Dome.

A building in Gaza City collapsed, killing more than 40 people, after an airstrike that Israel said was targeted at military tunnels beneath.
Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

For much of the eight days of fighting between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza, eyes on both sides have turned upward, scanning the skies for imminent airstrikes or incoming rocket fire. Increasingly, though, the focus of Israel’s battle plan has shifted underground.

Early on Monday, dozens of fighter jets conducted a third wave of strikes against what the Israeli military has called the Hamas “metro” system, an underground network of defensive tunnels that militants are said to use to travel undetected, and move rockets and other munitions. The military has described the network as a “city beneath the city,” much of it under civilian infrastructure.

The tunnels are also meant to complicate any Israeli ground invasion. Hamas has warned in the past that it would surprise Israeli soldiers should they enter the coastal territory.

The Israeli airstrikes began after Hamas militants fired a salvo of rockets toward Jerusalem on May 10. Among the first targets, officials said, were some offensive tunnels dug by Hamas that stopped short of the Israeli side of the border. Israel has constructed an underground barrier with sensors to detect tunnels crossing into its territory but still wanted to thwart any possibility of militants emerging from tunnels very close to the border and then attacking military posts or rushing the fence.

In parallel, the military says its airstrikes have been aimed against rocket launchers and rocket production facilities, militant commanders, their homes and several high-rise buildings. The military says that Hamas utilizes these towers, in part, for military purposes, but has not publicly offered evidence of Hamas activities in those buildings, including one, the Jalaa tower, that housed the offices in Gaza of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Hamas on Monday denied operating in the building.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said on Monday that Israeli officials had shared some of the intelligence about the tower with American counterparts.

During 50 days of fighting in the summer of 2014, Israel made a priority of destroying the tunnels that led to Israeli territory. It went public in 2017 with its plans to construct an underground barrier, which has now been completed.

Inside Gaza, Hamas’s defensive underground network has remained one of its main strategic assets.

Israel’s first offensive wave against the network took place early on Friday morning, in a combined assault by 160 aircraft, tanks, artillery and infantry units along the border, the military said.

The second wave followed early on Sunday and exacted a heavy human toll when civilian buildings collapsed, killing at least 42 people, including 10 children, according to Palestinian officials. The military said it had struck a section of tunnel beneath a road in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, accidentally causing the foundations of the homes above ground to collapse.

Colonel Conricus described the collapse as “abnormal” and said that the military was looking into the event to examine if it needed to adjust its approach to attacking the tunnel network, for example in the angle of firing the munitions.

After the third wave of strikes, concentrated in northern Gaza, Colonel Conricus said that the army’s early assessment was that it had destroyed more than 60 miles of subterranean infrastructure.

An Israeli Air Force official, who briefed reporters on Monday on the condition of anonymity, in line with military rules, said the tunnels ran for hundreds of miles. The idea, he said, was not to destroy all of the network but to create “choke points” that would seal sections off and make them inoperable. He said the tunnels could run as deep as 20 meters and were made of reinforced concrete.

A residential building in Ashdod in southern Israel on Monday after it was hit by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

As Israelis and Palestinians hunkered down for the second week of an increasingly stubborn conflict, a series of deadly flash points have galvanized both sides in a region where the human cost of war is all too familiar.

Before dawn on Monday, Israeli warplanes bombarded Gaza City, compounding the civilian suffering in the coastal enclave. At the same time, the rocket barrage by Hamas militants continued to take its toll on Israeli cities, including in Tel Aviv, the commercial center of the country, where the bubble of peacetime has been radically punctured.

As the casualties mount, along with the suffering of those Palestinians and Israelis left behind, several attacks stand out as seminal moments in a conflict that has transformed with surprising velocity, polarizing Israeli society like seldom before and spurring mob violence on both sides that has fanned fears of civil war.

Here are a few of the major flash points:

  • In the bombardment before dawn on Monday, the Israeli army said 54 Israeli warplanes used 110 rockets and bombs as they attacked around 35 targets for a period of 20 minutes. Much of the assault was aimed at a network of underground tunnels used by Hamas to move people and equipment. Israeli strategists refer to this strategy of targeting the tunnels as “mowing the grass.” Warplanes also targeted the homes of Hamas’s military leaders, the Israeli military said.

  • An Israeli airstrike over the weekend at a refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians, including eight children. Mohammed al-Hadidi said his wife and their sons Suhaib, 14, Yahya, 11, Abdelrahman, 8, and Wissam, 5, were killed, as were her brother’s four children and her sister-in-law. Only a 5-month-old baby boy, Omar, was pulled from the rubble alive. The attack magnified growing criticism against Israel’s military for the number of children that have been killed in airstrikes on Gaza. Outrage has been fanned on social media where images of children’s bodies have circulated.

  • On Saturday, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a well-known 12-story building in Gaza City that housed some of the world’s leading media organizations including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The destruction of the al-Jalaa tower drew global criticism that Israel was undermining press freedom. On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted that the building was “an important base of operations” for Hamas military intelligence. But The A.P. said it had operated from the building for 15 years and had no indication that Hamas was operating there. There were no casualties.

Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times
  • A 5-year-old Israeli boy, Ido Avigal, was killed on Wednesday when a rocket fired from Gaza made a direct hit on the building next door to his aunt’s apartment, where he was visiting with his mother and older sister. He had been sheltering in a fortified safe room. Nearly 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza this week.

  • The conflict began last Monday when weeks of simmering tensions in Jerusalem between Palestinian protesters, the police and right-wing Israelis escalated, against the backdrop of a longstanding local battle for control of a city sacred to Jews, Arabs and Christians. Among the main catalysts was a raid by the Israeli police on the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in which hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers were wounded. Militants in Gaza responded by lobbing rockets at Jerusalem, spurring Israel to respond with airstrikes.

  • The root of the latest escalation was intense disputes over East Jerusalem. Israeli police prevented Palestinians from gathering near one of the city’s ancient gates during the holy month of Ramadan, as they had customarily. At the same time, Palestinians faced eviction by Jewish landlords from homes in East Jerusalem. Many Arabs called it part of a wider Israeli campaign to force Palestinians out of the city, describing it as ethnic cleansing.

  • Intense political struggles for leadership of Israel and the Palestinians are part of the backdrop for the fighting. After four inconclusive elections in Israel in two years, no one has been able to form a governing coalition. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges, has been able to remain in office, and hopes Israelis will rally around him in the crisis. In Palestinian elections that were recently postponed, Hamas hoped to take control of the Palestinian Authority, and has positioned itself as the defender of Jerusalem.

Troops during an exercise by Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza City in December.
Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When it comes to Hamas’s military capabilities, much of the focus has been on the labyrinthine tunnels it uses to launch attacks against Israel or the arsenal of missiles it aims at Israeli cities.

But Israeli military experts and officials say there is another, less-discussed and murkier threat: clandestine naval commandoes entering or hitting Israel by sea.

It sounds like a scene from a Cold War thriller: An undercover commando unit infiltrating a country with underwater vessel in order to target an energy facility, a populated town, or wreak havoc in some other way.

But that was possibly the goal, according to the Israeli military, of a naval unit being directed by Hamas.

“Over the last days, Israeli naval troops spotted suspicious activity in the Northern Gaza Strip, near assets of the Hamas naval forces, and tracked the movements of a number of suspect enemy combatants,” the Israeli defense forces said in a statement.

They military said that the suspects were moving a “Hamas submergible naval weapon” that “appeared to be on its way to carry out a terror attack in Israeli waters.”

The military released a video showing Israeli defense forces destroying the vessel early Monday.

Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who is Head of Haifa University’s Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center, said Israel in recent years has been increasingly concerned about Hamas’s naval commando units. He said that undercover and surprise sea attacks were one way the militant group had sought to overcome Israel’s superior military power, including its mighty air force and Iron Dome defense system used to shoot down rockets fired by militants in Gaza.

“The fear is that these commando units can be used to target infrastructure like power stations or to try and infiltrate Israel by sea,” he said.

He said Israelis still shuddered at the memory of an episode in July 2014, during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, when four Hamas operatives armed with automatic weapons, explosives and grenades, surreptitiously swam ashore near Kibbutz Zikkim, on Israel’s southern coast, and tried to target an Israeli tank before being killed.

An Israeli Mk-84 2,000 pound air-dropped bomb, which did not explode, on Monday in the center of Gaza City.
Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel live under different governments and have increasingly developed separate identities. But on Tuesday, Palestinian activists hope to unite people across the three territories in a general strike to protest Israel’s air campaign in Gaza and other measures targeting Palestinians.

The initiative also has the backing of both Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-autonomy in parts of the West Bank.

“We want to send a clear message that we stand together in saying enough to the aggression on Gaza,” said Essam Bakr, one of the organizers. “But we are also saying enough to the attacks on the Aqsa Mosque, enough to the occupation and settlement building and enough to the unjust treatment of Palestinians.”

Over the past week, militant groups in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets toward Israel, killing at least 10 Israeli residents, while Israel has pounded Gaza with airstrikes, which have claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children, even though the army has said it means only to target Hamas military sites and personnel.

On Monday, social media was flooded with calls on Palestinians to participate in the strike and a billboard encouraging Palestinian citizens of Israel to take part was seen in Nazareth, the largest Arab-majority town in Israel.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority declared that a large number of its employees would participate in the strike.

Mr. Bakr said marches would take place in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel at 2 p.m. local time. The protesters in the West Bank were planning to head to dozens of areas near where there are Israeli security forces, he said, and clashes were expected.

In the deadliest attack of the current conflict so far, Israeli airstrikes on buildings in Gaza City on Sunday killed at least 42 people, including 10 children, Palestinian officials said.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it had “struck an underground military structure belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization which was located under the road.” It added: “Hamas intentionally locates its terrorist infrastructure under civilian houses, exposing them to danger. The underground foundations collapsed, causing the civilian housing above them to collapse, causing unintended casualties.”

Israeli airstrikes and artillery barrages on Gaza, an impoverished and densely packed enclave of two million people, have killed at least 212 Palestinians, including 59 children, in the past week, according to Palestinian authorities, producing stark images of destruction that have reverberated around the world.

Searching for survivors on Sunday after an overnight air strike in Gaza City.
Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

Civilians are paying an especially high price in the latest bout of violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, raising urgent questions about how the laws of war apply to the conflagration: which military actions are legal, what war crimes are being committed and who, if anyone, will ever be held to account.

Both sides appear to be violating those laws, experts said: Hamas has fired nearly 3,000 rockets toward Israeli cities and towns, a clear war crime. And Israel, although it says it takes measures to avoid civilian casualties, has subjected Gaza to such an intense bombardment, killing families and flattening buildings, that it probably constitutes a disproportionate use of force — also a crime.

No legal adjudication is possible in the heat of battle. But Israeli airstrikes and artillery barrages on Gaza killed at least 198 Palestinians, including 93 women and children, between last Monday and Sunday evening, according to Palestinian authorities, producing stark images of destruction that have reverberated around the world.

In the other direction, Hamas missiles have rained over Israeli towns and cities, sowing fear and killing at least 10 people, including two children — a greater toll than during the last war, in 2014, which lasted more than seven weeks. The latest victim, a 55-year-old man, died on Saturday after missile shrapnel slammed through the door of his home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

With neither side apparently capable of outright victory, the conflict seems locked in an endless loop of bloodshed. So the focus on civilian casualties has become more intense than ever as a proxy for the moral high ground in a seemingly unwinnable war.

In one of the deadliest episodes of the week, an Israeli missile slammed into an apartment on Friday, killing eight children and two women as they celebrated a major Muslim holiday. Israel said a senior Hamas commander was the target.

Graphic video footage showed Palestinian medics stepping over rubble that included children’s toys and a Monopoly board game as they evacuated the bloodied victims from the pulverized building. The only survivor was an infant boy.

“They weren’t holding weapons, they weren’t firing rockets and they weren’t harming anyone,” said the boy’s father, Mohammed al-Hadidi, who was later seen on television holding his son’s small hand in a hospital.

Although Hamas fires unguided missiles at Israeli cities at a blistering rate, sometimes over 100 at once, the vast majority are either intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system or miss their targets, resulting in a relatively low death toll.

Israel sometimes warns Gaza residents to evacuate before an airstrike, and it says it has called off strikes to avoid civilian casualties. But its use of artillery and airstrikes to pound such a confined area, packed with poorly protected people, has led to a death toll 20 times as high as that caused by Hamas, and wounded 1,235 more.

Under international treaties and unwritten rules, combatants are supposed to take all reasonable precautions to limit any civilian damage. But applying those principles in a place like Gaza is a highly contentious affair.

The Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

A house in Gaza that was bombed by Israel on Monday.
Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

The weeklong Israeli bombardment has left many of Gaza’s people without access to fresh water, electricity, health care, schools, working sewers and even their own homes, according to United Nations agencies, other aid organizations and Palestinian officials.

While much of the attention has been on the flesh-and-blood toll, with 212 people in Gaza killed and about 1,400 wounded, according to health officials there, the conflict has also wreaked extensive physical destruction that is likely to affect people’s lives for years to come.

By Monday, Israeli bombs and shells had destroyed 132 residential buildings with 621 units, which includes some shops, and had damaged 316 housing units so badly that they were uninhabitable, leaving thousands of people homeless, Gaza’s housing ministry reported. In addition, more than 6,000 homes were less severely damaged.

At least 800,000 of Gaza’s 2 million people lack regular access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs office. Some had limited access before the conflict, but the number has jumped, as the bombing campaign has put a major desalination plant and groundwater wells out of commission, and has knocked out wastewater pumping stations, allowing sewage to contaminate fresh water supplies.

Wastewater has flooded streets in the cities of Beit Lahia, Gaza City and Khan Younis.

Six hospitals and eight clinics have suffered bomb damage, the U.N. office said, and a hospital had to stop operating because of a lack of fuel. Some schools have also been damaged, and 50 schools run by the United Nations’ Palestine relief agency have been turned into shelters, temporarily housing 42,000 people.

The humanitarian office called for a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities, and for Israel to open some border crossings. “These measures would allow humanitarian agencies to carry out relief operations, and people to purchase food and water and seek medical care,” it said.


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