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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry/Getty Images

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that Israel needs another few days to complete its Gaza operation, but Blinken stressed that the U.S. expects the operation to end soon, an Israeli official tells Axios

What they're saying: In their call, Blinken told Ashkenazi the U.S. was blocking a French initiative at the UN Security Council on Gaza but cannot keep backing Israel publicly and diplomatically, mainly at the UN, for much longer, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The call between Blinken and Ashkenazi was part of the intensifying diplomatic squeeze to move toward a ceasefire in Gaza, which Israel is still fending off for now.

Driving the news: Blinken's call with Ashkenazi followed calls between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz.

  • Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel still has several military goals it hopes to achieve in Gaza, and needs more time.
  • Israeli officials said on all three calls, the issue of domestic political pressure from Congress for a ceasefire was mentioned.
  • Meanwhile France circulated its draft Security Council resolution on Wednesday calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. mission to the UN said it opposes the move and will not engage on the text.

The state of play: In recent days, Egyptian intelligence officials and UN envoy Tor Wennesland have held talks with Hamas officials and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat regarding a possible ceasefire.

  • Ben Shabbat listened to the proposals, but hasn't received any authorization from Netanyahu to enter into negotiations, Israeli officials say. Hamas, on the other hand, did actively engage.
  • Israeli officials said they expect the Israeli policy to change on Thursday and negotiations to begin.
  • Meanwhile, Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk said Wednesday that he expects the talks to produce a ceasefire within a day or two.

Nevertheless, getting an agreement could take between 24 and 72 hours, Israeli officials say — time Israel wants to use to complete its military plans in Gaza.

Go deeper

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.

Updated May 19, 2021 - World

Biden presses Netanyahu on Gaza ceasefire

A Palestinian boy sits on the remains of a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty

After 10 days of standing behind Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip, President Biden made clear that he is running out of patience. Biden told Netanyahu he expects "significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire," per the White House readout of their call.

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 under growing international pressure to end its operation — though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted earlier on Wednesday that Israel wouldn't "stand with a timer" and needed additional time to complete its objectives.

May 19, 2021 - World

2014 Gaza war looms large for U.S. officials handling current crisis

Palestinians wave white flags as they flee during the 2014 Gaza war. Photo: Sameh Rahmi/NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty

Bad memories from the 2014 war in Gaza have shaped the U.S. response to the latest crisis, U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: The 2014 war lasted for 50 days and included an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza. Almost 2,500 Palestinians were killed, many of them civilians, along with 69 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians.