Two hundred Palestinians, including 59 children, have been killed during a week of attacks in Gaza, health officials in the territory have said, as Benjamin Netanyahu signalled Israel’s bombardment would rage on despite mounting global pressure to stop the bloodshed.
After a phone conversation with Netanyahu on Monday afternoon, US president Joe Biden issued a statement for the first time expressing support for a ceasefire – but though he did not say it should be immediate.
“The president reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks,” the statement said. “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.”
Israeli reports quoting military officials, suggested that Israeli forces wanted to continue their military operations for another day or two before withdrawing. 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.
Early on Monday, warplanes launched more heavy airstrikes on Gaza City, rocking apartment blocks and sending fireballs into the air. Israel said it had “struck 110 targets” overnight, including in a densely populated neighbourhood.
It was unclear how many people might have been killed. During the past week, Israeli attacks have destroyed a health clinic, hit the home of an aid worker, killed two doctors, destroyed high-rise residential towers, blown up a mattress factory and flattened the offices of international news organisations.
Israel says its strikes target militants. Hamas, the Islamist group that rules inside the strip, has stationed its fighters in and fired rockets from civilian areas. Ten people in Israel, including two children, have been killed by militants, who have launched more than 3,000 rockets during the past week.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, which has long acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, said on Monday a ceasefire could be within reach. “Hope still exists that a collective action could end the conflict,” he told reporters.
However, in a televised address late on Sunday, Netanyahu said military attacks would “take time”. Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas, he said.
Militants in Gaza also pressed on, launching rockets towards civilian areas in Israel. One hit a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.
Last week, Russia’s foreign ministry said Hamas was ready to begin discussions to halt its attacks, although no public progress has been made, and the group’s leaders have since vowed to continue.
Unverified Israeli media reports have suggested the country rejected several proposals to stop the bombing, which the government claims is to degrade Hamas’s capabilities.
Yoav Limor, a commentator for the Israel Hayom newspaper, wrote last week that Israel was “playing for time” until diplomatic pressure became overwhelming. He wrote: “Israel said no to all the mediation proposals to reach a ceasefire, but in practice, it wants to increase the operation’s achievements before the whistle sounds.”
Biden has been facing increasing pressure from his own party to take a tougher line towards Israel and press for an immediate ceasefire. There was outrage from some Democrats over a Washington Post report that the administration had approved the sale to Israel of $735m-worth of precision-guided bombs.
“The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” the congresswoman Ilhan Omar said in a statement.
Other figures seen as closer to the Washington establishment have also spoken out. Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s former speechwriter and foreign policy aide, wrote on Twitter that it was “increasingly untenable for the US to see this loss of civilian life in Gaza – including so many children – and not publicly call for a ceasefire”.
On Monday, there was no sign of even a temporary truce to allow medics in Gaza to recover people – alive and dead – from under collapsed buildings.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was heading for an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”.
“The fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region,” Guterres told the UN security council on Sunday. “It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole.”
Palestinian girl, six, pulled alive from rubble after airstrike demolishes her home – video
Hostilities have repeatedly escalated over the past week, marking the worst fighting in the territory that is home to 2 million Palestinians since the devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
The latest outbreak began in East Jerusalem last month when Israeli police cracked down on Palestinian public gatherings during Ramadan amid the threatened eviction of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. Tensions exploded after Israeli police wounded hundreds of Palestinians during protests, and officers in riot gear stormed al-Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.
Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Israel says hundreds of militant-fired rockets have fallen inside Gaza, and it has shared aerial footage of a misfire. The Defence for Children International (Palestine) rights group reported last week that initial investigations suggested one explosion that killed eight Palestinians, including two children, was the result of a homemade rocket that fell short.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated”.
The assault had displaced about 34,000 Palestinians from their homes, the UN Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, told an emergency meeting of the UN security council, where eight foreign ministers spoke about the conflict.
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, urged the security council to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’s “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks”.