White House says steps toward ceasefire in Mideast are encouraging

·2-min read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Thursday that reports of a move toward a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were encouraging, even as Israel threatened to step up strikes on Gaza and Hamas rocket fire resumed after a pause.

Diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire gathered pace on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek "de-escalation", and a Hamas political official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said he believed a ceasefire would be reached "within a day or two".

An Egyptian security source - whose country has been mediating between the sides - said they had agreed in principle to a mutual halt in hostilities but details needed to be worked out.

"We have seen reports of a move toward a potential ceasefire. That's clearly encouraging," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing.

"We believe the Israelis have achieved significant military objectives that they laid out to achieve, in relation to protecting their people and to responding to the thousands of rocket attacks from Hamas," Psaki said.

"So that's why in part that we feel they're in a position to start winding their operation down," she said.

Rocket attacks on Israel stopped for eight hours on Thursday - the 11th day of hostilities - before resuming against communities near the Gaza border and the city of Beersheba.

Israel continued air strikes in Hamas-run Gaza, saying it wanted to destroy the Islamist militant group's capabilities and deter it from future confrontation after the current conflict.

Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization, has not been part of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization's engagement with Israel, which led to interim peace deals in the 1990s and the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Andrea Shalal, Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Chris Reese and Giles Elgood)

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