As the grinding and increasingly bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas militants moved into the second week, the violence showed no signs of abating as Israel pounded targets in the Gaza Strip overnight and Hamas continued to unleash a barrage of rockets at towns across southern Israel.
Diplomatic efforts appeared stalled as the level of destruction was quickly escalating to the kind of violence not seen since the last major conflict in 2014.
President Joe Biden told reporters on Monday afternoon that he would soon discuss the crisis with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “I will be speaking with the prime minister in an hour and will be able to talk to you after that,” he said.
Biden and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, were asked after the president made remarks on COVID-19 vaccines whether he would call for a Middle East cease-fire. Neither answered directly.
“Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy,” Psaki said. “That is how we feel we can be most effective.”
The 2014 conflict, with a seven-week invasion of Gaza by Israel and Hamas rocket fire, ultimately claimed 2,200 lives, rendered large areas of the Gaza Strip uninhabitable and paralyzed Israel’s south.
On that occasion, it took nearly three months for Israelis and Palestinians to broker a peace and reach an open-ended cease-fire. Netanyahu, speaking on Sunday, warned that the current operation would “take time.”
The current conflict has already settled into a steady if deadly routine, with two main battles being waged: one in the skies above Gaza and another in the tunnels below.
Israeli experts often describe periodic campaigns as “mowing the grass,” a kind of routine maintenance of the militant threat with the aim of curbing rocket fire, destroying as much of militant groups’ infrastructure as possible and increasing deterrence. Critics say the use of such terminology is dehumanizing to Palestinians and tends to minimize the suffering inflicted, including the toll on civilians.
And the dangers of the strategy became evident on Sunday, the deadliest day of the fighting, with at least 42 people killed, including at least 10 children, after an attack on a tunnel network caused three buildings to collapse. That strike badly damaged a medical clinic run by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, forcing it to close, and others have done damage to other medical facilities.
In the past week, Israeli strikes in Gaza have killed 212 people, including at least 59 children, and wounded about 1,400, according to the health authorities there, drawing condemnation across the world and leading to protests that have taken place in recent days in cities including Baghdad, Berlin and London. Rocket fire from Gaza has killed at least 10 people in Israel.
Much of the Israeli assault has been directed at a network of tunnels under Gaza used by Hamas, which controls the territory, to move people and equipment — a subterranean transit system that the Israeli military refers to as the “metro.”
The Israeli army said that in its “third wave” of attacks on the network early Monday, it employed 54 warplanes, releasing 110 rockets and bombs on around 35 targets for some 20 minutes.
Warplanes also targeted the homes of Hamas’ military leaders, the Israeli military said. At least some of those strikes landed near a row of hotels in a built-up area of Gaza City, forcing some guests into a bomb shelter
But even under sustained military bombardment, Hamas militants based in Gaza still managed to unleash a barrage of missiles into southern Israel — more than 3,100 since the start of the conflict a week ago, according to the Israeli military. Many of the rockets were intercepted by the Israeli defense system known as the Iron Dome.
Some U.S. officials have urged Israel to halt its operations soon or risk losing ground in the international court of public opinion. Late on Sunday, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and 27 other senators called for an immediate truce “to prevent further loss of life.”
Short of a lasting cease-fire, the Biden administration is trying to negotiate a humanitarian pause in the fighting to help Palestinians who have been forced from their homes in Gaza. Similar efforts in the past have been a key first step toward winding down hostilities.