Israeli aircraft pounded homes, weapons warehouses and underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to consolidate gains from 11 days of fighting, ahead of what could be an imminent cease-fire.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chief of the militant Hamas movement that rules Gaza, was cited on the website of Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV on Wednesday as saying that he expects that “a cease-fire will be reached within a day or two.” Israel’s Channel 12, citing unidentified people, reported Thursday that a Friday afternoon truce was shaping up.
Reports of a pending cease-fire have circulated before, but this time, they follow more intense U.S. pressure on Israel to dial back an onslaught that has killed about 230 Palestinians. President Joe Biden’s reluctance to publicly press Israel to end its attacks had set him on a collision course with Democratic congressional allies who wanted him to be more forceful, and on Wednesday, he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expected a “significant de-escalation” that very day.
But the Israeli leader rebuffed the squeeze, and declared himself determined to continue the operation until quiet and security are restored to Israel, where 12 people have died in relentless rocket assaults.
Overnight, Israeli aircraft hammered targets including weapons warehouses, unspecified “military infrastructure” located in the homes of Hamas officials, and the group’s subterranean network of tunnels, used for combat and logistics. Gaza rocket squads halted their fire for about eight hours before resuming it mid-morning Thursday.
The violence erupted after weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem, the holy city at the heart of conflicting sovereignty claims. Hamas fired rockets in Jerusalem’s direction after Israeli security forces stormed a Muslim shrine in east Jerusalem and Israel prepared to evict longtime Palestinian residents from homes in the city’s eastern sector.
The rocket fire toward Jerusalem crossed what Israel called a “red line,” and its military embarked upon an operation that’s delivered a harsher blow to the militants’ capabilities than ever before. The violence also spilled over into deadly clashes between Arabs and Jews inside Israel, and between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the West Bank.
While ordinary Palestinians and Israelis have suffered, leaders on both sides emerge from the conflict in a stronger position. The conflict has hollowed out Netanyahu’s rival’s efforts to form a government to unseat him as prospective partners in an alternative coalitions retreated to sectarian camps.
And among Palestinians, it has cast Hamas a more effectual fighter against Israel than the rival Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank and headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. It also gave Hamas bragging rights to have united Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel in the struggle against Israel.