Israel, Hamas Near Possible Cease-Fire After Biden Pressure

Israel and Hamas were near a possible cease-fire deal, media reports said, after U.S. President Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wind down the conflict.

The two sides could reach an agreement to pause fighting within two days, the New York Times reported, citing a senior Israeli official and two others who corroborated the account. The deal would unfold in stages, starting with the cessation of Israeli attacks on Hamas infrastructure, facilities and leaders while the Palestinian militant group would halt rocket attacks, the Times said.

Israel, Hamas Near Possible Cease-Fire After Biden Pressure

The agreement could be announced as soon as Friday, the Wall Street Journal separately reported, citing U.S. and foreign officials involved in the talks. Israel’s Channel 12 also reported that a cease-fire may be reached on Friday, without saying where it got the information. The U.S. National Security Council didn’t immediately respond a request for comment late Wednesday.

Netanyahu had declared earlier that airstrikes on the Gaza Strip would continue, despite Biden’s calls for him to immediately wind down a conflict that’s killed more than 200 people. The Israeli prime minister said in a statement that he was “determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved -- to restore quiet and security to you, the citizens of Israel.”

Israel, Hamas Near Possible Cease-Fire After Biden Pressure

Biden spoke to Netanyahu earlier Wednesday for the fourth time since fresh hostilities broke out between Israel and Hamas last week. “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.

But in his own statement, Netanyahu didn’t use the words “cease-fire” or “de-escalation.” He said the airstrikes were “harming the capabilities of the terrorist organizations.”

“I especially appreciate the support of U.S. President Joe Biden for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense,” he added.

Hamas deputy chief Moussa Abu Marzouk was cited on the website of Al-Mayadeen TV on Wednesday as saying that he expects that “a cease-fire will be reached within a day or two.”

The timeline is ultimately up to Israel. Since the early days of the fighting, Hamas has expressed a willingness to dial it back, with the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh saying last Tuesday that “if the occupation wants to escalate, then the resistance is ready, and if it wants to stop, the resistance is also ready.”

Israel has repeatedly said that it would continue its offensive until it determines that Hamas’s capabilities have been significantly degraded. Netanyahu said Tuesday that the operation has set back Palestinian militants “many years” and that other enemies “will learn the lesson” from the heavy price Gaza gunmen have paid. On Wednesday, he told foreign diplomats that Israel can either “deter” or “conquer” Hamas, the Ynet website reported.

Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib

Biden has come under pressure from Democratic congressional allies to push Israel toward a cease-fire. Several liberal House members led by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan introduced a resolution Wednesday to block a planned $735 million U.S. arms sale to Israel.

“The United States should not be rubber-stamping weapons sales to the Israeli government as they deploy our resources to target international media outlets, schools, hospitals, humanitarian missions and civilian sites for bombing,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet, calling for sympathetic Americans to call their members of Congress and lobby for the resolution.

Tlaib, the first woman of Palestinian descent to win election to Congress, spoke briefly with Biden about the Gaza violence on Tuesday when the president visited a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan. The New York Times reported that she urged him to do more to protect Palestinian lives in the conflict.

Their resolution faces long odds of passage, as there’s generally strong bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.

“The United States is working tirelessly through various levels of government to express support for a cease-fire, get to a place of sustainable calm, and build a path forward to addressing the underlying causes of conflict,” Jean-Pierre said.

“The two leaders had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, the Israelis’ progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States,” she added.

Israel, Hamas Near Possible Cease-Fire After Biden Pressure

Jean-Pierre declined to say whether Biden had previously pushed Netanyahu on a cease-fire. The president first expressed his public support for the move on Monday.

More Israeli air strikes battered the Palestinian enclave on Wednesday as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel. The Palestinian death toll rose to 219, while 12 people in Israel have been killed since fighting broke out May 10.

Israeli air strikes have pummeled Gaza and killed several Hamas commanders and intelligence officials. Hamas -- which governs Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union and other nations -- has fired more than 3,700 rockets at Israeli territory.

Rockets fired from Lebanon struck Israel for the first time on Wednesday since the fighting began, with one intercepted and three others “most likely” having fallen in open territory, according to the military, which responded with artillery fire.

Two previous launches from Israel’s northern neighbor, home to Iran-backed Hezbollah militants and Palestinian factions, fell short. Even so, the attacks from Lebanon have raised the specter of another front in the conflict.

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