• The Star Staff

Diplomatic efforts to reach cease-fire in Gaza gather urgency as deadly violence continues

By Rick Gladstone and Shashank Bengali

Ten days into the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts to end the devastating violence gained urgency Wednesday as a growing chorus of international parties urged the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons. France is leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the U.N. Security Council, but it remains unclear when a resolution will be put to a vote.

Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, diplomats privy to the discussions say, but that has not reduced the intensity of the deadliest fighting in the Gaza Strip since 2014.

The Israeli army’s airstrikes have killed at least 219 Palestinians, including dozens of children, according to the Gaza health ministry. They have also destroyed homes, roads and medical facilities across the territory. Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns Wednesday, sending people scurrying for shelter. The barrage from Hamas has killed at least 12 Israeli residents.

As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel tweeted on Tuesday that the attacks against Hamas would “continue as long as necessary to restore calm to the citizens of Israel.”

A senior Hamas official denied reports that the group had agreed to a cease-fire, but said that talks were ongoing.

Still, with Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis has deepened for the 2 million people inside Gaza.

The U.N. said that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have damaged schools, power lines, and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. COVID-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.

“There is no safe place in Gaza, where 2 million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years,” the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.

The Biden administration has said that it is working urgently toward a deescalation of the violence, but those efforts faced a test at the Security Council, where France said on Tuesday that it had drafted a cease-fire resolution after consulting with leaders in Egypt and Jordan. The text has not been disclosed, but U.N. diplomats said the language had been designed to be acceptable to the entire 15-member council.

The United States, Israel’s strongest ally in the U.N. and a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, has been the lone holdout for any action — even a statement condemning the violence, which many other U.N. members blame on Israel.

It was unclear whether the United States would be amenable to the French resolution. The U.S. position — which U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield reiterated on Tuesday in the fourth meeting the council held on the crisis — has irritated even some of America’s closest allies.

“Conflict is raging, resulting in utterly devastating humanitarian impact,” Ireland’s ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, told the council. “The Security Council has yet to utter a single word publicly.”