Israel's Netanyahu 'determined' to continue Gaza operation

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Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud)

GAZA – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to press ahead with a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, pushing back against calls from the United States to wind down the operation that has left hundreds dead.

Netanyahu's tough comments marked the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began last week and could complicate international efforts to reach a cease-fire. His pushback also plunges the pair into a difficult early test of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Israel continued to pound Hamas targets in Gaza with airstrikes, while Palestinian militants bombarded Israel with rocket fire throughout the day. In another sign of potential escalation, militants in Lebanon fired a rocket barrage into northern Israel.

After a visit to military headquarters, Netanyahu said he appreciated “the support of the American president,” but he said Israel would push ahead to return “calm and security” to Israeli citizens.

He said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”

He spoke shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden told Netanyahu that he expected "a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” the White House said.

Biden had previously avoided pressing Israel more directly and publicly for a cease-fire with Gaza's Hamas militant rulers. But pressure has been building for Biden to intervene more forcefully as other diplomatic efforts gather strength.

Egyptian negotiators have also been working to halt the fighting, and an Egyptian diplomat said top officials were waiting for Israel’s response to a cease-fire offer. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.