image By fighting Hamas once again to an apparent draw, Israel proved it needs fresh thinking. Photo: Flash90

France, US working on Israel-Gaza truce

More than a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas showed few signs of abating today in spite of global diplomacy to stop the region’s fiercest hostilities since the 2014 war between the two sides.

Two more people were killed in Israel today in the ongoing missile barrage from Gaza, bringing the death toll to 12.

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that he will be working with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II toward a resolution of the Hamas conflict, including efforts to forge a path toward eventual dialogue with Israel.

“For me there needs to be a process for a ceasefire as quickly as possible and construction of a possible path to discussions between the different protagonists,” Macron said at a news conference in Paris.

“In the coming days we have decided to have a discussion with President al-Sisi and the King of Jordan to be able together to see how we make a concrete proposal,” he said, while stopping short of providing any additional details.

The French leader also disclosed that he would be holding a discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu either today or tomorrow.

United States President Joe Biden held a second conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, during which he reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also offered Washington’s help to calm the hostilities.

The US has been engaged in extensive behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts. “Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy and that’s where we feel we can be most effective,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

The US has repeatedly held the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) back from issuing what is expected to be public condemnation of Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks. For the past week, Jerusalem’s strong ally Washington has been isolated on the 15-member council over its objection to a statement – which must be reached by consensus, deeming such action as ‘unhelpful’ at the moment.

Meanwhile, the President of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir declared that the 193-member world body will meet to discuss the matter on Thursday. The hearing was called at the request of Niger and Algeria, who chair the Organization for Islamic Cooperation group and Arab group in New York “in light of the gravity of the situation and its rapid deterioration.”

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz released a statement last night, in which he offered his “sincere thanks to the US Administration, and in particular to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, with whom I spoke this week, for rightly preventing the unjust UN Security Council statement criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

“While Hamas, a terror organization, targets our civilians and commits war crimes, our aims are solely to dismantle terror infrastructure and protect our people,” insisted the Israeli Defense Chief, stressing that, “This criticism of Israel is hypocritical and detrimental to the global fight against terror.”

In a rare move, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called out the US for its actions. Beijing, which currently holds the council’s rotating presidency, chided Washington for having blocked a public UNSC session last Friday before eventually conceding to holding it on Sunday, but steadfastly balked over the issuance of a policy communique on both occasions.

“The question is, will any given action or any given statement actually, as a practical matter, advance the prospects for ending the violence or not,” US. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, explain that, “If we think that there’s something … that would effectively advance that, we would be for it.”

Blinken reiterated that the Biden Administration is working “intensively” around the clock to reach a ceasefire between the sides, while rejecting suggestions that Washington was blocking diplomacy at the United Nations.

“We’re not standing in the way of diplomacy, on the contrary we are exercising it virtually non-stop,” Blinken told a news conference while on a state visit to Denmark.

Just before midnight last night, Secretary Blinken tweeted that he held a conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi yesterday “about the need to calm tensions in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza,” and “We must find a way to halt the conflict that has claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.”

Expanding on that, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price added that during the conversation with Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, “The two discussed the path forward, and the Secretary noted that the United States would remain engaged with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other regional stakeholders as part of our diplomacy to ease tensions and put an end to the hostilities.”

Egypt and UN mediators have also stepped up diplomatic efforts toward a ceasefire.

The rocket assault on Israel began last Monday 10 May after weeks of tensions over a property dispute in the Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood and Arab clashes with Israeli police during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The IDF estimates that approximately 130 Hamas terrorists and 30 Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist have been killed in retaliatory air and artillery strikes since the outbreak of hostilities last week, while Gaza health officials put the official Palestinian death toll at 212.

In Israel, 11 civilians and 1 soldier have been killed in the incessant rocket barrage. Another civilian succumbed to injuries sustained during clashes over Operation Guardian of the Walls that erupted between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities in mixed areas.

There has also been an upsurge of violence in the West Bank.

Palestinians and their supporters declared today as a “Day of Rage,” to include general strikes in Arab towns within Israel as well as across the West Bank.

The Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas movement encouraged followers to participate in the strike, and most Palestinian Authority public sector employees were given the day off.

In addition to participating in the strike, Hamas called on its members march toward IDF checkpoints to clash with Israeli forces.

Social media posts went viral, urging solidarity the Palestinian “Day of Rage” to take place  “from the sea to the river.”

The phrase evokes comparison with Arab battle cries during previous conflicts with Israel – during variations of the slogan included “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea,” and “Palestine is Islamic from the river to the sea.”