May 19, 2021 - World

Israel targets homes of Hamas commanders as Gaza fighting hits day 10

Palestinian Ryad Eshkuntana, checks his daughter Suzy, as they receive medical care at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after his wife and other children were killed in an Israeli air strike. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

The fighting in the Gaza Strip has entered its tenth day with efforts toward a ceasefire ramping up but still yielding little progress.

Why it matters: 219 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, at least half of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel is now under growing international pressure to end its operation, including from the Biden administration, Israeli officials say.

The state of play: Hamas continued to fire rockets towards Israel on Wednesday but the numbers decreased and the fire focused on towns and cities in southern Israel.

  • Israeli officials say Hamas has begun rationing its rockets, fearing the fighting could continue for a longer period than expected.
  • The Israeli air force continued its airstrikes in Gaza on Wednesday and said it was focusing on Hamas and Islamic Jihad field commanders’ houses and on parts of Hamas’ tunnel system in Gaza.

Behind the scenes: When Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke on Tuesday to his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, he focused much more on the need for de-escalation than on Israel's right to self-defense, according to the Israeli officials.

  • That's a shift from previous communications between top U.S. and Israeli officials.
  • Meanwhile Egypt, Qatar and the UN are leading the push towards a ceasefire.

Egypt presented to Israel and Hamas a proposal for a basic "quiet for quiet" ceasefire, Israeli officials say.

  • Hamas officials told the Egyptians they're ready for a ceasefire but want Israel to take steps regarding the situation in Jerusalem, while Israel refuses to discuss any agreement that would link the Gaza conflict to Jerusalem, sources familiar with the talks tell me.
  • The backstory: The current escalation began last Monday in Jerusalem after Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, where Palestinians had been protesting the possible evictions of six Palestinian families in favor of Jewish settlers. After the raid, Hamas fired rockets on Israel.

What they're saying: “We don’t stand with a timer. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a time frame on the operation," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a briefing to foreign ambassadors on Wednesday.

  • Privately, Israeli officials say the ceasefire talks could gain momentum in the next 24 hours, but contend that such a pause would be fragile and could collapse quickly.

What’s next: The Israeli security cabinet is expected to convene on Wednesday to discuss the ceasefire talks.

  • In New York, negotiations on a French-led draft UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire are expected to start.
  • On Thursday, the UN General Assembly will convene to discuss the Gaza crisis. It's unclear if the meeting will include a vote on a non-binding resolution.
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