Monday. 27.05.2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to continue his country's military operation in Gaza, despite a push from Washington earlier on Wednesday calling for a de-escalation in the conflict, now in its ninth day.

Netanyahu tweeted that the goal of the military operation in Gaza is to provide security and tranquillity for Israel's citizens. The comments came following a phone call with US President Joe Biden, who told Netanyahu that he "expected a significant de-escalation."

Netanyahu did not directly address Biden's call, but thanked the US president for supporting Israel's right to defend itself.

The exchange followed denials by Israel and the Hamas movement in Gaza that a ceasefire was in the works, amid pressure on the two sides to end their fighting.

Izzat al-Rishak, a high-ranking member of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said on Wednesday that there had been no agreement on a ceasefire with Israel.

Israeli television had earlier reported on the potential for an internationally mediated ceasefire to go into effect from 6 am (local time) on Thursday. Officials later denied the prospect of a cessation of hostilities, according to later reports.

Earlier, Netanyahu said the goal of the Israeli assault against Hamas militants was "to maximize the period of quiet and calm that Israel can gain against this foe."

"There are only two ways that you can deal with them: You can either conquer them - and that's always an open possibility - or you can deter them. And we are engaged now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don't rule out anything."

As part of international efforts to bring an end to the violence, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he intends to travel to the Middle East on Wednesday for talks.

Aid delivery suspended

In Gaza, an aid delivery was suspended for a second day following attacks on the Kerem Shalom border crossing into the impoverished coastal strip.

According to the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a shipment of humanitarian aid was being driven into Gaza when three mortar shells were fired at the border area.

Part of the shipment from Jordan, which was transported by several trucks, was medical equipment for a hospital in Gaza, COGAT said.

Tensions began to escalate in the region following the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on May 10.

The airstrikes and rocket attacks followed violent clashes about access to the Jerusalem holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. Palestinians were also angered by forced evictions in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah.

So far, more than 3,700 rockets have been launched from Gaza, according to the Israeli military, while Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in the coastal strip.

Some 219 people have been killed in Gaza, a quarter of them minors, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Israel says it has killed at least 160 militants and is trying to avoid civilian casualties, but Hamas and other militant groups were using residential buildings as cover for fighters and weapons. There have also been isolated attacks, such as one in Hebron on Wednesday that led to one death.

So far, 12 people have died in Israel in the rocket attacks.

Rockets fired from Lebanon

Rockets were fired towards northern Israel from Lebanon on Wednesday as well. The Israeli army retaliated against the four rockets - one of which was intercepted, while the others landed in open areas - by shelling targets in Lebanon from which the rockets had been fired.

According to Lebanese security sources, a Palestinian faction was behind previous rocket attacks out of the country, not Hezbollah.

UN human rights experts are concerned about signs of war crimes on both sides and have asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate.

The experts accuse Israel of firing rockets and shells at densely populated areas in Gaza, while Palestinian groups would similarly fire rockets "deliberately or recklessly" into Israeli urban areas.

Residents in the Rimal neighbourhood, which has been particularly hard hit by Israeli attacks, are only leaving their homes to run errands, a reporter in Gaza said. The buzz of Israeli drones and explosions of Israeli shells kept people awake around the clock.

Rimal is considered one of the better-off neighbourhoods in the otherwise poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, where just more than 2 million people live. The Israeli army justifies its attacks by pointing out that many high-ranking Hamas commanders also have their homes there.

For example, Mohammed Deif, an important Hamas military chief who has survived two assassination attempts by Israel, according to media reports. The air force had targeted him during two operations, but Deif managed to escape both times in the very last minute.

Netanyahu continues attacks on Gaza despite US call for peace