The worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years spilled into a ninth day on Tuesday as the Israeli military bombarded Gaza and southern Lebanon and Hamas militants fired rockets into southern Israeli towns, hours after President Biden expressed support for a cease-fire during a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Mr. Biden’s carefully worded statement fell short of an immediate demand for an end to Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, which showed little sign of ending after Mr. Netanyahu said on Monday that his country’s armed forces would “continue striking at the terrorist targets.”
Despite growing concern in foreign capitals over the violence — and among some of Israel’s staunchest defenders in Washington — the region’s heaviest clashes since a 2014 war threatened to escalate. Late Monday, the Israeli military fired artillery shells into Lebanon for the first time since the hostilities began, striking what it said were Palestinian militants who had attempted to fire rockets into Israel.
The Israeli Army said it believed that a small Palestinian faction in Lebanon — and not the militant group Hezbollah — had fired the rockets, most of which failed to reach Israeli territory. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon tweeted that it had intensified patrols in the area and that the situation on Tuesday morning was calm.
But the toll on civilians continued to grow. By late Monday, the Israeli bombardment had killed 212 people in Gaza, including dozens of children, and Hamas rockets had killed at least 10 in Israel.
The Israeli Army said that Hamas had fired almost as many rockets in eight days — 3,350 — as it did in the 50-day war the two sides fought in 2014. About 90 percent of them were destroyed in midair by the Iron Dome, an antimissile defense system partly financed by the United States, the Israeli Army said.
The fighting has been focused on the Gaza Strip, the crowded coastal enclave ruled by Hamas, as the Israeli Army bombards infrastructure and underground tunnels that it says Hamas uses to support its military operations. But protests and violence have also erupted in the West Bank and Israel, where Arabs have clashed with the Israeli police and Jewish residents.
Palestinian activists in all three territories have called for a general strike on Tuesday to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza and decades of occupation and discrimination against Palestinians. The initiative has the backing of both Hamas and its rival Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-autonomy in parts of the West Bank.
The Biden administration has stepped up its diplomatic engagement, dispatching an envoy to the region last week. In a readout of Mr. Biden’s call with Mr. Netanyahu, White House officials said the president had “expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end.” But Mr. Biden had “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks,” the statement added.
The Biden administration previously avoided the use of the term “cease-fire,” with top officials like Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken talking instead about the need for a “sustainable calm” and others referring to the need for “restraint.”
While a cease-fire would be welcomed by the White House, Mr. Netanyahu has in recent days made clear that he intended to continue bombing until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s stockpile of rockets, launchers and the tunnels from which Hamas fighters are operating. Speaking on Monday after meeting with Israeli security officials, Mr. Netanyahu said, “We will continue to take whatever action necessary in order to restore quiet and security for all the residents of Israel.”
In his conversations with Mideast leaders, Mr. Biden has tried to move the United States to a more neutral role as a peacemaker, after four years of former President Donald J. Trump favoring Israel.
On Saturday, the White House pointed to Mr. Biden’s recent “decision to resume assistance to the Palestinian people, including economic and humanitarian assistance to benefit Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” and his renewed call for “a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution.”
On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters that the administration would not reveal all the details of Mr. Biden’s communications with leaders in the conflict. “Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy,” she said. “That is how we feel we can be most effective.”
The United Nations Security Council has held three meetings over the past week to devise a common statement condemning the deadly force being used by Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Each effort has failed because of objections from the United States, Israel’s most powerful ally.
Frustrated by what they see as U.S. intransigence even as the deaths and devastation — overwhelmingly Palestinian — extended into a second week, the representatives of China, Norway and Tunisia put the subject on the agenda for another Security Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
“The situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Innocent civilians continue being killed & injured,” Norway’s U.N. Mission said in announcing the planned meeting on its Twitter account. “We repeat. Stop the fire. End hostilities now.”
The Tuesday meeting was to be convened in private, diplomats said, presumably allowing representatives of the Council’s 15 members to speak more frankly.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has defended American reluctance to join other Security Council members in a statement, arguing that it would not be helpful while intense but private diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade Israel and Hamas to stop fighting.
Diplomats from the United States, Qatar and Egypt as well as the special U.N. coordinator for Middle East peace have all been enmeshed in these efforts.
But neither Israel nor Hamas has shown any indication that they are ready for a cease-fire. At the same time, the Israeli military’s overwhelming bombings and shelling in Gaza have stunned much of the world, threatening to further isolate the Israelis and their American defenders.
The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, scheduled that body’s own meeting over the Israel-Hamas conflict on Thursday. While that meeting may have no practical impact on events on the ground, the majority of the 193 members of the United Nations are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and highly critical of Israel’s occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war. So that meeting could be the biggest stage yet for international condemnation of Israel’s actions.
In another sign of growing exasperation with Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan blamed the escalating violence on what the Jordanian leader described as Israeli provocations. In a Twitter post Monday from the royal Jordanian court, King Abdullah said he had conveyed his view in a phone call with António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general.
The king’s statements carry weight because Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and the country is the custodian of the religious site in Jerusalem that houses Al Aqsa, the mosque where tensions between Palestinians and Israelis played an early role in the latest upsurge of violence.
It used to be that when Palestinians were under fire, protests would follow in the streets of Arab cities. But solidarity with the Palestinians has shifted online and gone global, creating a virtual Arab street that has the potential to have a wider impact than the physical ones in the Middle East.
A profusion of pro-Palestinian voices, memes and videos on social media has bypassed traditional media and helped accomplish what decades of Arab protest, boycotts of Israel and regular spurts of violence had not: yanking the Palestinian cause, all but left for dead a few months ago, toward the mainstream.
As Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza stretches into a second week, the online protesters have linked arms with popular movements for minority rights such as Black Lives Matter, seeking to reclaim the narrative from the mainstream media and picking up support in Western countries that have reflexively supported Israel during past conflicts with Palestinians.
“It feels different this time, it definitely does,” said Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, 29, the Palestinian-Jordanian-American founder of MuslimGirl.com, whose posts on the topic have been ubiquitous over the past week. “I wasn’t expecting this to happen so quickly, and for the wave to shift this fast. You don’t see many people out on the streets in protest these days, but I would say that social media is the mass protest.”
Palestinian activists say that they aim to seize control of the narrative from media outlets that have suppressed their point of view and falsely equated Israel’s suffering with that of its occupied territories.
They refer to Israeli policies as “the colonization of Palestine,” describe its discrimination against Palestinians as apartheid and characterize the proposed eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, which helped set off the current conflict, as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing
As images of Sheikh Jarrah, destruction in Gaza and police raids on Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have barreled from Palestinian online platforms — including PaliRoots and Eye on Palestine — across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, they have united a new generation of Arab activists with progressive allies who might not have known where Gaza was two weeks ago.
President Biden’s urging of a halt to Israeli-Palestinian fighting followed calls from Democratic lawmakers for his administration to speak out firmly against the escalation of violence. But unlike during past clashes in the region — when most Democrats have called for peace without openly criticizing Israel’s actions — skepticism around Israel’s current campaign in Gaza has spread to even some of its strongest defenders in Congress.
They include Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who told Democrats on the panel on Monday that he would ask the Biden administration to delay a $735 million tranche of precision-guided weapons to Israel that had been approved before tensions in the Middle East boiled over.
Mr. Meeks is a fixture at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. His call to delay the arms package came after a number of Democrats raised concerns about sending American-made weapons to Israel at a time when it has bombed civilians, as well as a building that housed press outlets.
A day earlier, 28 Democratic senators put out a letter publicly calling for a cease-fire. The effort was led by Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia and, at 34, the face of a younger generation of American Jews in Congress.
On Saturday, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who is known as one of Israel’s most unshakable allies in the Democratic Party, issued a statement saying he was “deeply troubled” by Israeli strikes that had killed Palestinian civilians and the tower housing media outlets. He demanded that both sides “uphold the rules and laws of war” and find a peaceful end to fighting that has killed more than 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis.
Though they have no intention of ending the United States’ close alliance with Israel, a growing number of Democrats in Washington say they are no longer willing to give the country a pass for its harsh treatment of the Palestinians. Some Those most vocal in their criticism of the Israeli government said they meant to send a message to Mr. Biden: that the old playbook he used as a senator and as vice president would no longer find the same support in his party.
“That hasn’t worked,” Representative Mark Pocan, a progressive Democrat from Wisconsin, told a top adviser to Mr. Biden late last week, he said in an interview on Monday. “We’re going to be advocating for peace in a way that maybe they haven’t traditionally heard.”
The strongest push is coming from the energized progressive wing of the party, whose representatives in the House, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have in recent days accused Israel of gross human rights violations against Palestinians.
Republicans and AIPAC have been swift to warn against any perceived weakening of the U.S. commitment to Israel. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader and a vocal supporter of Israel, condemned Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on Monday for her description of Israel as an “apartheid state” and urged the president to “leave no doubt where America stands.”
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As the worst violence in years rages between the Israeli military and Hamas, each night the sky is lit up by a barrage of missiles and the projectiles designed to counter them.
It is a display of fire and thunder that has been described as both remarkable and horrifying.
The images of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system attempting to shoot down missiles fired by militants in Gaza have been among the most widely shared online, even as the toll wrought by the violence only becomes clear in the light of the next day’s dawn.
“The number of Israelis killed and wounded would be far higher if it had not been for the Iron Dome system, which has been a lifesaver as it always is,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said this week.
The Iron Dome became operational in 2011 and got its biggest first test over eight days in November 2014, when Gaza militants fired some 1,500 rockets aimed at Israel.
While Israeli officials claimed a success rate of up to 90 percent during that conflict, outside experts were skeptical.
The system’s interceptors — just 6 inches wide and 10 feet long — rely on miniature sensors and computerized brains to zero in on short-range rockets. Israel’s larger interceptors — the Patriot and Arrow systems — can fly longer distances to go after bigger threats.
The Iron Dome was recently upgraded, but the details of the changes were not made public.
It is being tested like never before, according to the Israeli military.
“I think it will not be a big mistake to say that even last night there were more missiles than all the missiles fired on Tel Aviv in 2014,” Major General Ori Gordin, commander of Israel’s home front, said during a news conference on Sunday. “Hamas’s attack is very intense in terms of pace of firing.”
Militants in the Gaza Strip have about 3,100 missiles, the Israeli Air Force said on Sunday, noting that about 1,150 of them had been intercepted.
“Despite the layers of defense, there is never 100 percent defense,” Gen. Gordin said. “Sometimes the aerial defense will miss or not be able to intercept, and sometimes people will not get into shelters or lay on the ground and sometimes a whole building will collapse.”