US President Joe Biden has greatly increased the pressure on Israel to end the war with the Palestinians, making clear in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects “significant de-escalation” by the day’s end.
Mr Biden asked Mr Netanyahu to move “towards the path to a ceasefire”, according to a White House description of their conversation.
The US president’s call came as political and international pressure mounts on him to intervene more forcefully to push an end to the hostilities.
Mr Biden had until Wednesday avoided pressing Israel more directly and publicly for a ceasefire, or conveyed that level of urgency for ending Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
His Biden administration had relied instead on what officials described as “quiet, intensive” diplomacy, including quashing a UN Security Council statement that would have addressed a ceasefire.
The administration’s handling opened a divide between Mr Biden and Democratic legislators, dozens of whom have called for a ceasefire.
Egypt and some others have worked without success to broker a halt to fighting, while Hamas officials indicated publicly they would keep up their rocket barrages into Israel as long as Israel continued air strikes.
Hamas’s top leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said this week that the group has been contacted by the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of ceasefire efforts but “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people”.
Mr Netanyahu had given no sign of plans to immediately wind down Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas leaders and supply tunnels in Gaza, a 25-mile by six-mile strip of territory that is home to more than two million people.
“You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them,” he told foreign ambassadors.
“We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don’t rule out anything.”
The fighting, the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014, has killed at least 219 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel.
The latest strikes came as diplomatic efforts aimed at a ceasefire gathered strength and Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, rapidly deteriorated.
Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007.