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Previous story Biden expresses support for Israel-Gaza ceasefire as pressure on US rises Next story

STORY BY JULIAN BORGER | THEGUARDIAN.COM

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Israel carries out fresh wave of pre-dawn airstrikes but US president stops short of demanding halt to hostilities Biden has been facing increasing pressure from his own party to take a tougher line towards Israel.
Published on May 18, 2021 5:23 AM

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Israel unleashes wave of airstrikes on Gaza as Biden issues statement supporting ceasefire
Joe Biden has issued a statement for the first time expressing support for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's militant rulers, Hamas, after a phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, the US president stopped short of calling for an immediate halt to the eight days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket barrages that have killed more than 200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinian.

"The president reiterated his firm support for Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks," the White House statement said after the phone call, the second known call between the leaders in three days. Arab states split for first time on refusal to condemn Israel over Gaza Read more

"He encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. The two leaders discussed progress in Israel's military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end."

Israel carried out a fresh wave of airstrikes in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, levelling a building in Gaza City. The Israeli military said it had fired 100 bombs and missiles against 65 targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

he military said it also shot down a drone "approaching the Israeli border" in the north-east, far from the Gaza fighting. It did not say where the drone originated, and the army could not immediately be reached for comment. It is possible the drone came from Syria.

Israeli reports quoting military officials suggested that Israeli forces wanted to continue their military operations for another day or two before withdrawing. Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late on Monday that Israel would "continue to strike terror targets" in Gaza "as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens".

Meanwhile, the US blocked – for the third time in a week – the adoption of a joint UN security council statement calling for a halt to Israeli-Palestinian violence. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the US was focusing instead on "quiet, intensive diplomacy".

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, speaking in Denmark on Monday, said the US was ready to help if Israel and Hamas signalled interest in ending hostilities – but that the US wasn't demanding that they do so. "Ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire," Blinken said, before noting that it was "a big world and we do have responsibilities".

General strikes were held on Tuesday in East Jerusalem, Arab towns within Israel and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with posts on social media bearing a Palestinian flag and urging solidarity "from the sea to the river". Palestinian businesses across East Jerusalem were shuttered, including in the walled Old City, and in the mixed Jewish-Arab port city of Haifa in northern Israel, protest organiser Raja Zaatar told Reuters the strike had closed 90% of businesses in Arab neighbourhoods...