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Biden: Start Ceasefire Talks

U.S. President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he expects Israel to move towards a ceasefire with Hamas. Following a phone call between the leaders on Wednesday, May 19, the White House said that Biden “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

“The two leaders had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States,” the White House readout stated.

At press time, the Prime Minister’s Office statement on the call was not yet available.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu said Israel does not have a set time by which it seeks to finish Operation Guardian of the Walls.

“We’re not standing with a stopwatch in our hand; rather, we are making sure to meet the goals of this operation,” Netanyahu said in a briefing to foreign ambassadors on Wednesday, responding to a question about when this round of fighting will end, according to a source in the meeting.

The comments came after the U.S., which has been supportive of Israel, began pushing for a cease-fire,
and France worked on a U.N. Security Council Resolution to that effect.

Netanyahu explained that Israel is trying to “degrade their [Hamas’s] capabilities, their terror capabilities and degrade their will … There are periodic battles, and we are trying to maximize the quiet and period of calm that Israel can gain against this foe.”

The possible responses to Hamas are to either conquer Gaza or to deter them, he added.

“We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything. We hope we can restore quiet. We hope we can restore it quickly,” he said.

Netanyahu extended condolences to the ambassadors of Thailand and India for their countries’ citizens killed by Hamas rockets in recent days.

“I think this is just one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone,” Netanyahu said. “They’ve actually killed two Israeli Arabs in Lod; targeted Tira, an Arab town. They’re truly an equal-opportunity murderer. They murder everyone. Any civilian they can get their hands on. And they use civilians. They target civilians while hiding behind civilians, using them as, you know, as human shields.”

Netanyahu admitted that Israel “didn’t expect a wide conflagration” as tensions rose in Jerusalem earlier this month and Hamas used Jerusalem Day and the court proceedings on Sheikh Jarrah to incite violence, but that Israel made major efforts to de-escalate, including the unprecedented postponement of the Sheikh Jarrah ruling and rerouting the Jerusalem Day parade, as well as banning Jewish visitors from the Temple Mount.

“This didn’t help a wit,” Netanyahu lamented. “The propaganda continued. The lies continued. The incitement continued.”

The origins of the current escalation in violence came from Hamas seeking a way to consolidate its power after the Palestinian Authority canceled elections, he said.

Netanyahu emphasized the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties. He showed videos of Hamas shooting rockets, storing arms and otherwise operating from civilian areas.

The prime minister also showed a map of the Hamas tunnel network in Gaza City and Khan Yunis, which the IDF bombed last week.

“They built a whole infrastructure throughout Gaza of an underground tunnel network in order to enable them to stock their weapons, their missiles, their command posts, communication centers and their fighters and also to shoot from underground, just from small piers that they have,” he explained.

Netanyahu also showed a video of the IAF calling off an attack because there were civilians in the area, and of the “knock on the roof” shot to the top of a building to warn that it is in the IAF’s sights.

“We try to target those who target us, with great precision,” he said. “There is no army in the world that does more than the Israeli army, in the Israeli security services, in Israeli intelligence to prevent collateral damage. To have Israel criticized for that is absurd. Not only is it absurd and unjust and untrue, it does enormous damage to democracies that are fighting this kind of evil.”

That criticism is a danger to democracies around the world, because it encourages terrorists, Netanyahu warned. “I think you should support Israel strongly because this is not merely a question of Israel’s security, it’s a question of our common security and our common interests in the Middle East,” he stated.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who also took part in the briefing, said this round of fighting is different, because it is Hamas’ attempt to take over the Palestinian agenda and strengthen its political status.

“In recent weeks, I spoke with dozens of foreign ministers around the world, and I am convinced that there is a good understanding and international support for Israel’s need to fight Hamas terrorism,” Ashkenazi said. “We expect countries for which stability and peace in the Middle East is important to explicitly condemn Hamas, express support for Israel’s right to defend itself, put the onus for de-escalation on Hamas, and designate Hamas [as a terrorist organization].”

The charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court “hurt any chance of regional developments,” Ashkenazi warned. “Israel cannot take trust-building steps with the Palestinians when there is a threatening sword above us of cases against IDF soldiers and arrests abroad, and therefore, we have a shared interest in removing the charges from the agenda,” he stated.

By Lahav Harkov/Jerusalem Post

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