May 16, 2021 - World

Israel to continue Gaza operation, officials rule out cease-fire for now

A photo of israeli prime minister netanyahu and defense minister gantz at a table.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) on May 9, 2021. Photo: AMIT SHABI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli security cabinet on Sunday decided to continue the Gaza operation, according to military plans. Israeli officials said a cease-fire is not on the table right now.

Why it matters: There was a growing feeling within the military and senior defense establishment ahead of the cabinet meeting that Israel should start moving toward ending the operation.

Driving the news: Senior officials and cabinet members who are closely involved in the Gaza operation told Axios before the meeting that military achievements against Hamas so far, along with growing international pressure against civilian casualties and the degrading humanitarian situation in Gaza warrant a gradual move to cease-fire talks.

  • But the cabinet barely discussed a cease-fire when it convened. It agreed to reconvene if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz decide to move in that direction.

The latest: The UN Security council had a virtual meeting on Sunday to discuss the Gaza crisis. The foreign ministers of the 27 E.U. member states will also have a virtual meeting on the matter on Tuesday.

What's happening: The Gaza ministry of health announced Sunday that 181 Palestinians were killed in the operation — 83 of them were women and children. More than 1200 Palestinians were wounded.

  • Hamas has continued to fire rockets towards Israeli cities. The Israeli military said more than 3,000 rockets were launched from Gaza since the beginning of the escalation.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials say the air campaign in Gaza has already achieved most of its goals, and the next step in broadening the operation is a ground invasion, which nobody in the government wants to do.

  • The humanitarian situation in Gaza was also deteriorating including almost no electricity supply. Gaza hospitals are having difficulty dealing with the number of wounded people.

State of play: Israeli officials also say the Biden administration is increasingly urging Israel — gently for now — to consider ending the operation.

  • President Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who spoke to their counterparts Netanyahu and Gantz yesterday, hinted at this direction, the Israeli officials said.
  • The Pentagon said in a statement on Saturday that in the call with Gantz, Austin “shared his view on the need to restore calm in Gaza.”
  • U.S. envoy Hady Amr met with Gantz in Tel Aviv Sunday, and said the Biden administration was ready to help in restoring calm, Israeli officials said.

What they're saying: Netanyahu said in a statement after the cabinet meeting that the Gaza operation will continue and “will take time.” He added that Israel has the backing of the Biden administration and other Western governments.

Where it stands: Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki told the UN Security Council that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza.

  • He stressed that foreign leaders saying that Israel has a right to self-defense emboldens it to kill Palestinian families in their sleep. “Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza one by one,” Al-Maliki said.
  • Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, who spoke after Al-Maliki, called on the security council to condemn Hamas for its rocket attacks. “Israel is using rockets to protect children, Hamas is using children to protect its rockets,” Erdan said.

What’s next: Israeli officials said they think it is highly likely that cease-fire talks will begin within days, despite the cabinet's decision.

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