Israel is still hammering the Gaza Strip with airstrikes Thursday and declared that it will “continue to do so” in response to Hamas rockets “indiscriminately” fired at Israelis despite admonitions from President Biden for a cease-fire.
Biden in a Wednesday conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for “significant de-escalation today on a path to a cease-fire” amid reports that the two sides were nearing a potential cease-fire agreement, which the Associated Press reports could come in the next 24 hours.
Yet the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday doubled down on its attacks against terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“Jews. Muslims. Christians. Druze. Over the last 11 days, Hamas has fired rockets indiscriminately at all Israeli citizens,” the IDF tweeted. “In response, we have been precisely targeting the source of terrorism in Gaza—and we will continue to do so.”
Netanyahu on Wednesday appeared to create distance between Biden’s stance and his.
Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president” but said Israel will push ahead “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.” He added that he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Israel has been responding to rocket attacks from Hamas with measures of its own, including airstrikes targeting key Hamas military complexes. The state is facing criticism for the reported 200-plus Palestinians killed as well as strikes such as the one on an evacuated media building – although the IDF said it was being used by Hamas, with media outlets being used as cover.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed. The military said an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an empty bus near the frontier on Thursday, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.
Former U.S. Vice President and current President Joe Biden (left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 9, 2016. (REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool/File Photo) (REUTERS/Debbie Hill)
The Middle East fighting is a serious test of the relationship Biden has with Netanyahu early in the former’s presidency. The White House readout of Biden’s call with Netanyahu was notably tough on the prime minister. And Biden is facing massive pressure at home from the left wing of his Democratic Party, which is highly critical of Israel.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., introduced a resolution disapproving of an arms sale between the U.S. and Israel, and attacked Netanyahu as an “extremist.”
“You cannot claim to support human rights and peace on Earth and continue to back the extremist Netanyahu regime, it’s that simple,” Tlaib said.
Meanwhile, Biden’s administration has been holding off the United Nations from officially calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to prevent the resolution that would be a major rebuke to the longstanding U.S. ally.
Republicans and some Democrats in the United States are supportive of Israel, however, noting the difference in tactics between the two entities – they say Hamas is firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians and Israel is taking pains to save civilian lives even as Hamas uses civilians as human shields.
“They aren’t at war with the Palestinian people. They’re fighting Hamas, a terrorist group that opposes a two-state solution; that wants Israel destroyed,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week. “Let’s dispense with the ‘both sides’ nonsense. Only one side has taken credible steps toward peace. And even when rocketed by terrorists, Israel takes great pains to avoid harming civilians.”
He added: “Frankly, Israel is taking more care to protect Palestinian civilians than Hamas, which intentionally hides behind innocent people, in violation of the laws of war, and then exploit their deaths to advance the cause.”
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Thursday. Price said Blinken “reinforced the message that the U.S. expects to see de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire.”
Ashkenazi tweeted that he thanked Blinken “for the full backing of the US for Israel’s right to defend its citizens” and “his uncompromising support for Israel, including in the Security Council, & for US efforts to bring security and political stability to the region.”
Ashkenazi also tweeted Thursday that “With every rocket fired, #Hamas is committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli citizens from within population centers in #Gaza, using the entire population of Gaza as human shields.”
“No country in the world would accept acts of terrorism and aggression towards its citizens,” he added. “Israel uses proportionate force while doing all it can to avoid harming civilians.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and the Associated Press contributed to this report.