May 20 (UPI) — Hours after U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects fighting to de-escalate in Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas traded attacks overnight and into Thursday morning as the situation continues to deteriorate.
The Israeli Air Force said fighter jets overnight attacked Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip, a self-governing Palestinian territory along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, hitting the homes of at least two Hamas commanders, weapons production sites and several underground and submarine launch sites, among other targets.
In the past 24 hours, it said it hit dozens of underground targets in its attack against the so-called Hamas Metro, which it has been bombarding for days.
“We will continue to operate to ensure the safety of Israeli civilians,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
Overnight, Hamas launched some 70 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip with 90% intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system and with about 10 rockets falling back into Gaza, the military said.
The airstrikes and rocket launches came after Biden, who has come under increasing pressure to engage Israel to end its attacks, spoke with Netanyahu over the phone Wednesday, telling his Israeli counterpart that he expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” a readout of the call from the White House said.
Following the call, Netanyahu said he is “very much appreciative” of Biden’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself and that he is determined to continue Operation Guardian of the Walls until “calm and security” is restored.
The call occurred Wednesday amid increasing international demands for a cease-fire.
On Wednesday, the leaders of France, Egypt and Jordan issued a joint statement expressing concern over the escalation of tensions and calling on both parties “to immediately agree on a cease-fire.”
They said they will continue working with the U.N. Security Council and other international partners to make that happen.
The statement was issued in the wake of the council failing to produce a resolution during several meetings in the past week with China holding the United States responsible for blocking it.
“What U.S. does amid Palestine-Israel conflict is deeply disappointing,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao said in a statement. “UNSC is paralyzed due to U.S. veto, is this what U.S. calls rule-based international order?”
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was traveling to Tel Aviv on Thursday with other international partners to try and calm the fighting, his office said.
“Germany stands without ifs and buts by our friendship with Israel, which must defend itself against Hamas’ rocket terror,” Maas said in a statement. “And even in difficult times, our humanitarian aid to the Palestinians was always reliable.”
Tensions over Israel seeking to displace Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes erupted in violence the night of May 10 with Hamas firing a barrage of rocks into Israel. In response, Israel launched Operation Guardian of the Walls and over the last week and a half has hit dozens of Hamas and militant targets in Gaza. The Israeli Air Force said early Thursday that Hamas has fired some 4,070 at its territory in the past 10 days, with about 610 falling back into Gaza.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that at least 227 Palestinians have been killed as of Wednesday, including 64 children to the airstrikes with another 1,620 injured. Israeli’s Foreign Ministry reported two more deaths from Hamas’ rockets on Wednesday, lifting its death toll to 12.
The Palestinian ministry has accused Israel of targeting densely populated residential areas to which Israel accuses Hamas of placing military targets near civilian areas to use them as human shields.
The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it has tallied about 75,000 people to be internally displaced since May 10, including 47,000 seeking shelter in U.N. schools across Gaza with an additional 28,700 staying with foster families.
“Until a cease-fire is reached, all parities must agree to a ‘humanitarian pause,’ to ensure access in to and out of Gaza for humanitarian staff and critical goods,” the office said.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency also announced Wednesday an appeal for $38 million to cover urgent humanitarian needs.
“A humanitarian truce is desperately needed to allow assistance to the people in Gaza including those having fled their homes,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.