United States President Joe Biden on Wednesday told his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects a “significant reduction on the path of a ceasefire” in its military confrontation with Gaza, the White House said.

The statement marks an important change in the US’ stance towards Israel, its closest ally, according to AFP. Biden has supported Israel’s stance that the country was acting in self-defence.

However, the White House did not say how Biden defined “significant” in asking Netanyahu to bring down the bombing of Gaza. So far, at least 228 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since May 10, reported Reuters, citing Palestine health officials. At least 12 people have been killed in Israel.

Before the telephone call with Netanyahu, US had said that it only wants a truce even as various countries around the world have called for an immediate ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Wednesday said the country was not ruling out the possibility of “conquering” the Gaza strip. Netanyahu reiterated his stand that Israel had no set timeframe to put an end to its attacks. “We’re not standing with a stopwatch,” he said at the briefing, according to Reuters. “We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

On the other hand, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassam said that those who seek to restore calm must “compel Israel to end its aggression in Jerusalem and its bombardment of Gaza”, according to Reuters. He was reacting to Biden’s call.

US opposes UN resolution for ceasefire between Israel and Gaza

The US said on Wednesday it opposes a proposed United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, reported AP. The US said that the resolution could interfere with the Biden administration’s efforts to end the hostilities between the two sides.

The resolution was drafted by France after the US blocked at least four attempts by the security council to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence. Diplomats said all other council members supported the statement.

A press statement needs agreement by all 15 council members but a resolution requires only nine votes in support and no veto by the five permanent members.

A French spokesperson said that the country was engaged in “very intense discussions” with the US about the proposed resolution. However, a US mission spokesperson later said: “We’ve been clear and consistent that we are focused on intensive diplomatic efforts underway to bring an end to the violence and that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate.”

Ceasefire within 1-2 days, predicts Hamas official

A senior Hamas official said on Wednesday that he expects Isreal and Gaza to reach a ceasefire “within a day or two”, reported BCC, citing a Lebanon news channel.

“I think that the ongoing efforts regarding the ceasefire will succeed,” the Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV. Marzouk added that the ceasefire will be on the basis of a mutual agreement.

Meanwhile, Israel continued its attack on Gaza. On Thursday, its airstrikes destroyed two houses, leaving four injured, in the town of Khan Younis. Israel claimed that it had targeted “multi-barrel rocket launching sites and aerial defence compounds” belonging to Hamas.

Also read:

Why it’s hard to fix accountability for the war crimes in the Israel-Palestine conflict

The violence

The violence, which has resulted in the worst hostilities between Israel and Palestine since 2014, escalated after the Israeli police stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam, on May 10. The police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at worshipers during Ramadan. Israel’s actions were seen as a retaliation to the protests by Palestinians against attempts to forcibly evict a number of families from their homes.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, set a 10.30 pm IST deadline for Israeli forces to be withdrawn from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. Soon after, the Hamas fired rockets from Gaza towards Jerusalem.

At the heart of the conflict is an Israeli Supreme Court hearing, which was due on May 10, in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate that was given to Israeli settlers.

As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood.

The renewed tensions due to the case in the Supreme Court, was an extension of the long-standing conflict as Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, sees all of the city as its Capital, while Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is largely unrecognised internationally.

The neighbourhood is also home to Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, as well as the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.