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Key UN biodiversity summit to open in China

BEIJING: A key UN summit tasked with protecting biopersity officially opens in China and online Monday, as countries meet to tackle pollution and prevent mass extinction weeks before the COP26 climate conference.

Beijing, the world’s biggest polluter, has sought to position itself in recent years as a world leader on climate issues after Washington’s withdrawal from international commitments under the Trump administration.

The online session that begins Monday afternoon — setting the stage for a face-to-face meeting in April — will see parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) working out the details of a new document that will set targets for protecting ecosystems by 2030.

Up for debate are the “30 by 30” plan to give 30 percent of lands and oceans protected status — a measure supported by a broad coalition of nations, as well as a goal to stop creating plastic waste.

China has not yet committed to the “30 by 30” plan.

This year’s COP15 gathering, hosted in the southwest city of Kunming, was originally set for 2020 and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction amid human encroachment on habitats, over-exploitation, pollution, the spread of invasive species, and climate change.

The CBD has been ratified by 195 countries and the European Union — although not the United States, the world’s biggest historical polluter — with parties meeting every two years.

China said on Friday it has “given high priority to the protection of biopersity by establishing a network of protected areas and national parks.”

And this week Beijing is expected to unveil a statement known as the Kunming Declaration, which would set the tone for its environmental leadership.

But sharp pisions remain over the targets for urgent action over the next decade.

France and Costa Rica are among a coalition of support for the initiative to declare 30 percent of oceans and lands protected areas before 2030.

But when scientists called for more ambitious protection of half of Earth’s biopersity, Brazil and South Africa strongly opposed.

Other sources of tension surround financing, with developing nations asking rich countries to foot the bill for their ecological transitions.

These issues will be at the heart of negotiation sessions set to take place in Geneva in January 2022.

The biopersity discussions at COP15 are separate from weightier COP26 summit set to begin next month in Glasgow, where world leaders are under pressure to act on the climate crisis.

The Glasgow summit faces a packed agenda dominated by efforts to persuade countries such as China and India to commit to binding “nationally determined contributions” towards net zero emissions.

China has pledged to peak carbon emissions in 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2060, but environmentalists have flagged the huge amount of coal-fired power being brought online in recent years by the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases.

Gold prices may hit $1,920-mark in one month; vaccination drive, dollar movement key

The year gone by (2020) will be etched in human minds for a very long time as mankind has never faced a situation wherein the global world was in a lockdown mode due to the havoc created by Covid-19 pandemic.

The United States, which accounts for just 4 per cent of the global population, had 20 percent of all corona deaths was at the core focus as the country was hit by a second wave of the virus, resulting in much more deaths than the first wave.

This was followed by the elections in the US, which culminated into the appointment of new President Joe Biden at a time wherein the outgoing President Trump was about to be impeached for the second time in his term of 4 years although Trump survived the first impeachment. Moreover, Trump’s possibility to order a strike on Iran’s main nuclear facility Natanz on the grounds that it is being used to enrich uranium was also under consideration. In totality, the US has now become the world’s new epicentre of political and geo-political instability in the months and years ahead.

V20Agencies

Dollar weakness: A major boost to gold and vice-a versa

Dollar, which is also considered to be a safe haven, has already lost its value by 6 per cent in 2020, and effects of the massive monetary easing in the US are expected to combine with a post pandemic reversal of last year’s financial flight into safe US assets, which will likely weaken the greenback further in 2021. Dollar weakness and gold prices are inversely correlated and if it weakens further, there is more room for gold prices to move higher in the months ahead.

On the contrary, the dollar has gained its value in January by 1.4 per cent on account of mass inoculation programmes in the US, the UK, India, which led to the fall in gold prices by around 3 per cent in January 2021, in the international as well as domestic markets.

Easy money policy: The game is on
The next round of fiscal stimulus in the United States was now in focus with President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal. Euro zone finance ministers also pledged continued fiscal support for their economies. While the global equities have been doing well, the underlying economy still remains weak because of which the central bank is trying to do whatever it can to bring in normalcy back into the economy, which is visible in the easy monetary policy adopted by the US and Europe and major central banks across the global economy.

What next? Where is gold headed
The current risk assessments are more tilted in favour of risky assets rather than the safe haven assets and the vaccination programmes are creating a ray of hope across the global economy.

However, more stimulus measures from the US and the $1.9 trillion package that might sooner be released by the US will result in further action in gold prices moving higher.

Whatever may be the circumstances, the broader fundamentals of easy money policy, weak dollar, rising infections will continue to be the push factors for gold prices to turn bright again.

From a one-month perspective, we expect spot gold prices in the international markets to move higher towards the $1,920-mark and the

MCX

futures might move higher towards the Rs.50,400/10 gms-mark in the same time frame.

(Prathamesh Mallya is AVP Research Non Agri Commodities and Currencies, Angel Broking Ltd. Views are his own.)

China’s ByteDance says TikTok will be its subsidiary under deal with Donald Trump

NEW YORK/BEIJING: China’s ByteDance said on Monday that TikTok‘s global business will become its subsidiary, even as Oracle Corp and Walmart Inc said over the weekend that they and US investors would own the majority of the video app following a deal with U.S. President Trump‘s administration.

Trump signed an executive order on Aug. 14 giving ByteDance 90 days to sell TikTok, amid concerns that the personal data of as many as 100 million Americans that use the app could be passed on to China’s Communist Party government. On Saturday, he said he supported a deal in principle that would allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States.

Accounts of the deal differ. ByteDance said on Monday that it will own 80% of TikTok Global, a newly created U.S. company that will own most of the app’s operations worldwide. Oracle and Walmart, which have agreed to take stakes in TikTok Global of 12.5% and 7.5% respectively, had said on Saturday that majority ownership of TikTok would be in American hands.

ByteDance in its statement on Monday said it was a “rumor” that U.S. investors would be TikTok Global’s majority owners and that ByteDance would lose control over TikTok. Oracle declined to comment on ByteDance’s statement, while Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.

Some sources close to the deal have sought to reconcile the discrepancy by pointing out that 41% of ByteDance is owned by U.S. investors, so by counting this indirect ownership TikTok Global would be majority owned by U.S. parties. One of the sources said the deal with Oracle and Walmart values TikTok Global at more than $50 billion.

TikTok also confirmed plans for an initial public offering of TikTok Global. The Beijing-based firm said TikTok Global’s board of directors will include ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming as well as Walmart’s chief executive Doug McMillon and current directors of ByteDance. The company declined to further comment on who else would be among the directors.

Oracle and Walmart said in a joint statement on Saturday that four out of the five board of directors will be Americans.

The current plan for TikTok Global does not involve any transfer of algorithms or technologies, and Oracle will be able to inspect TikTok U.S.’s source code, ByteDance said. This is akin to U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp sharing their source code with Chinese technology experts, ByteDance added. Oracle and Walmart have said all of TikTok’s technology will be in possession of TikTok Global.

ByteDance also said a $5 billion payment of taxes TikTok Global is reportedly supposed to make to the U.S. Treasury is based on estimated income and other taxes the company will need to pay over the next few years and has nothing to do with the deal reached with Oracle and Walmart.

Trump last week had said there would be a $5 billion U.S. education fund as part of the deal but ByteDance has said it was not aware of this.

ByteDance owning the majority of TikTok Global and the algorithms means that ByteDance is “not out of the game” and has avoided the worst-case scenario, China’s state-run newspaper Global Times said in an editorial published on Sunday.

Shen Yi, a Fudan University professor, said in a separate article published in the Global Times on Monday that Trump’s nod to the deal “could even been seen as a reversal of U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order issued in August” and that it was helped by a “concerted effort” by the Chinese government, ByteDance and U.S. domestic forces.

“If the Trump administration makes more moves to block the deal, it may encounter direct checks and balances from interest groups of Wall Street.”

Biden to order agencies to revisit vehicle tailpipe emissions standards

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden will order U.S. agencies on Wednesday to revisit fuel efficiency standards as well as rules governing emissions from airplanes, and appliance and building energy efficiency standards, the transition team said.

The Trump administration in March finalized a rollback of U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards to require 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5% yearly boosts in Obama administration rules it discarded.

The Trump administration said the rollback would result in about 2 billion additional barrels of oil being consumed over and at least 867 million metric tons of carbon dioxide being emitted over the life of the vehicles.

During the campaign, Biden vowed to “establish ambitious fuel economy standards” and to negotiate them with workers, environmentalists, automakers and states.

Biden is also directing agencies to reconsider Trump’s 2019 decision to revoke California’s authority to set its own auto tailpipe emissions standards and require a rising number of zero-emission vehicles.

Automakers have pledged to work with Biden on new rules to reduce emissions, but are split over a legal challenge to Trump’s effort to bar California from setting emissions rules.

Biden has made boosting electric vehicles a top priority and pledged to spend billions of dollars to add 550,000 charging stations for such vehicles. He also supports new tax credits for purchases of electric vehicles and retrofitting factories for their production.

Biden is also directing the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider new greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes published last week that were roundly criticized by environmental groups and a dozen states who noted they would result in no greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Those airplanes account for 10% of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total U.S. emissions.

Biden will also issue an executive order on Wednesday requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors.

Biden is not expected to immediately sign an order requiring masks on airplanes and on interstate transportation as he has vowed to do; that could come as early as Thursday.

The incoming Biden administration announced Monday it would reimpose entry bans on most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of continental Europe after Trump issued an order to lift them effective Jan. 26.

Airbus lost $1.3 billion amid pandemic; expects better 2021

PARIS: European plane maker Airbus lost 1.1 billion euros (USD 1.3 billion) last year amid an unprecedented global slump in air travel because of the pandemic, but expects to deliver hundreds of planes and make a profit in 2021 despite uncertainty about when people will resume flying en masse.

Airbus is also pushing to negotiate a “cease-fire” soon in its years-long trade dispute with U.S. rival Boeing, amid hopes that the Biden Administration will be more amenable than Trump‘s government to a deal.

The dispute has led to billions of dollars in tit-for-tat cross-Atlantic tariffs on planes, cheese, wine, video games and other products.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury acknowledged Thursday that the company’s performance last year was “far from expectations” and had to constantly adapt as airlines grounded planes – or folded altogether – because of travel restrictions.

Airbus announced in June that it would cut 15,000 jobs, mostly in France and Germany.

“The crisis is not over. It is likely to continue to be our reality throughout the year,” Faury said. “Airlines will continue to suffer” and to “burn cash,” he warned.

Airbus doesn’t expect the industry to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023-2025, and when it does, Airbus predicts that environmental concerns will be ever more important to passengers and airlines, so it’s increasing investment in hydrogen and lower-emissions aircraft.

Airbus sales were down to 49.9 billion euros from 70 billion euros the year before.

The company also reported a loss in 2019 because of a major multinational corruption settlement.

Airbus delivered 566 aircraft last year and expects to deliver about the same number this year, the company said. It took in 268 commercial plane orders, down from 768 the year before.

Both figures were well down from normal recent years, but above those from struggling Boeing.

Boeing Co. got a bump in orders and deliveries of new planes in December, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the year.

It notably suffered from continuing cancellations of its 737 Max jet, which was grounded for 21 months after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.

With both plane makers facing a long and difficult recovery, the Airbus chief executive called the U.S.-EU tariffs a “lose-lose situation” for everyone.

The tariffs stem from a dispute over state subsidies to both Airbus and Boeing that each side calls unfair.

After trade tensions worsened under Trump’s presidency, Faury said, “We believe the situation is in place to start with a cease-fire, to suspend tariffs, to hold negotiations and move forward.”

Airbus welcomed one bit of good news last year: a negotiated agreement between Britain and the EU to reduce trade disruptions after Brexit was finalised December 31.

Faury insisted Thursday that Airbus’ U.K. plants “have a very, very important role to play moving forward for Airbus.”

Overall, however, the outlook remains bleak for the aviation industry.

Also Thursday, Air France-KLM announced it plunged to a 7.1 billion euro (USD 8.5 billion) loss in 2020, as travel restrictions and worries caused a 67 per cent fall in passenger numbers at the French-Dutch airline.

CEO Ben Smith said the carriers now are looking for an improvement in 2021 “as soon as vaccination is deployed on a large scale and borders once again reopen.”

US drops demand for ‘safe harbour’ in global tax talks

US treasury secretary Janet Yellen told G20 officials that Washington had dropped the Trump administration’s proposal to let some companies opt out of new global digital tax rules, US and European officials said on Friday, raising hopes for an agreement by summer.

“Secretary Yellen announced that we will engage robustly to address both Pillars of the OECD project, and that the United States is no longer advocating for ‘safe harbour’ implementation of Pillar 1,” a US Treasury official said.

Already challenging multilateral talks to reform global taxation under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stalled after former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted on the contentious measure in late 2019.

Tax experts and finance officials around the world had warned that the US proposal could have allowed big US companies like Amazon, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook to opt out of whatever was agreed internationally.

Yellen’s statement to G20 finance ministers and central bankers was widely welcomed by European officials.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz described the US move as a major breakthrough that could pave the way for a broader deal. “My US colleague Janet Yellen told G20 finance ministers today that the United States would participate, and that the new regulations for fair international taxation should be binding for all companies,” he said in a statement after the meeting.

He said Yellen told the G20 officials that Washington also planned to reform US minimum tax regulations in line with an OECD proposal for a global effective minimum tax. “This is a giant step forward on our way to an agreement among the participating countries by the summer,” Scholz said.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire echoed his praise, saying an agreement on the overhaul of cross-border corporate tax rules was now within reach by a summer deadline.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calls for minimum global corporate income tax

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday urged the adoption of a minimum global corporate income tax, an effort to offset any disadvantages that might arise from the Biden administration’s proposed increase in the US corporate tax rate.

Citing a “thirty-year race to the bottom” in which countries have slashed corporate tax rates in an effort to attract multinational businesses, Yellen said the Biden administration would work with other advanced economies in the Group of 20 to set a minimum.

“Competitiveness is about more than how U.S.-headquartered companies fare against other companies in global merger and acquisition bids,” Yellen said in a virtual speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “It is about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods.”

The speech was Yellen’s highest-profile so far on international affairs, and came just as the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began in a virtual format.

“It is important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition and corporate tax base erosion,” Yellen said.

President Joe Biden has proposed hiking the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent, partially undoing the Trump administration’s cut from 35 per cent in its 2017 tax legislation.

Biden also wants to set a minimum U.S. tax on overseas corporate income, and to make it harder for companies to shift earnings offshore. The increase would help pay for the White House’s ambitious USD 2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.

Also on Monday, Biden said he was “not at all” concerned that a higher corporate tax rate would cause some U.S. companies to relocate overseas, though Yellen’s proposed global minimum corporate tax is intended to prevent that from happening.

“There’s no evidence to that … that’s bizarre,” Biden said in response to a question from reporters.

According to the Tax Foundation, the Trump administration’s corporate tax reduction lowered the U.S. rate from the highest among the 37 advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to the 13th highest. Many analysts have argued, however, that few large U.S. multinationals paid the full tax.

“We have 51 or 52 corporations from the Fortune 500 who haven’t paid a single penny a day for 3 years?” Biden said. “Come on.”

Yellen, meanwhile, downplayed the potential for the Biden administration’s domestic agenda, which also includes a USD 1.9 trillion COVID relief package approved last month, to spur higher inflation. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, among others, has raised such concerns since the relief bill passed.

“I strongly doubt that it’s going to cause inflationary pressures,” Yellen said, referring to the administration’s infrastructure proposal. “The problem for a very long time has been inflation that’s too low, not inflation that’s too high.”

Yellen also said the United States will step up its efforts at home and overseas to fight climate change, “after sitting on the sidelines for four years.”

Treasury will work to “promote the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from carbon-intensive investments,” Yellen said. That approach has raised the ire of GOP members of Congress, who say it threatens the ability of the U.S. oil and gas industry to access needed lending.

Yellen also noted that many developing nations are lagging in vaccinating their populations, and have also experienced harsh economic consequences from the pandemic. As many as 150 million people worldwide will fall into extreme poverty this year, Yellen said.

“The result will likely be a deeper and longer-lasting crisis, with mounting problems of indebtedness, more entrenched poverty, and growing inequality,” Yellen said.

The Biden administration supports the creation of USD 650 billion in new lending capacity at the IMF to address such issues, she said. Many Republicans in Congress oppose the new allotment, arguing that much of the funding would flow to relatively better-off developing countries, such as China.

Yellen acknowledged that the additional credit would be distributed to each IMF member, but argued that “significant resources will go to the poorest countries most in need.” Nations can also donate some of their funds to the hardest-hit countries, which she expects many will do, she added.

China’s Huawei aims to reach driverless car technology in 2025

China‘s Huawei Technologies aims to develop driverless passenger car technology by 2025, an executive said on Thursday, as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker persifies its business in the face of U.S. sanctions.

“Our team’s goal is to reach true driverless passenger cars in 2025,” Wang Jun, senior executive at Huawei‘s smart vehicle unit, told an industry conference.

Dozens of startups, automakers and large technology firms such as internet search leader Baidu Inc are accelerating work on self-driving vehicle systems which are expected to bring a sea change to the transportation industry.

Huawei has pivoted to smart electric vehicles after its global smartphone business was hammered by U.S. sanctions. The previous Trump administration labelled the company a threat to U.S. national security – a charge it denies.

New York prosecutors probing Trump form grand jury: US media

New York prosecutors have convened a grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, suggesting they may have found evidence of a crime, US media reported Tuesday.

The development is the latest step towards the 74-year-old Trump, who left the White House in January, possibly becoming the first ever ex-US leader to face criminal charges.

Trump fired off a statement in response to the reports, rejecting the investigation as “purely political” and “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history.”

“It’s never stopped… No other President in history has had to put up with what I have had to,” he wrote.

The grand jury was set up recently and will sit three days a week for six months, reported The Washington Post, citing two unnamed people familiar with the case.

The panel is also hearing several matters unrelated to Trump’s case, the paper added.

The Washington Post said the move, also reported by ABC, suggests that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance may have found evidence of a crime, if not by Trump then somebody close to him.

A spokesman for Vance refused to comment when contacted by AFP.

In the United States, prosecutors typically refer important cases to grand juries made up of citizens who examine the prosecution’s case in secret. They hear evidence and can request additional documents before deciding whether criminal charges should be brought.

Vance and New York state Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats, are investigating Trump’s business dealings — prompting the Republican to claim he is being persecuted.

“This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it’s being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors,” Trump charged in his statement.

Will Trump lieutenant turn?
Investigators are examining whether the Trump Organization committed tax evasion, insurance and bank fraud.

Vance’s probe initially focused on hush payments made to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump — but the investigation has since been expanded.

Investigators suspect the Trump Organization may have artificially inflated and reduced the value of assets, particularly several properties in New York state, to either get bank loans or reduce their taxes.

Last week, James said her office was investigating the Trump Organization in a “criminal capacity” and was working with Vance’s team.

The Trump Organization did not respond to an AFP request for comment on Tuesday.

Vance, who leaves his post at the end of December, acquired eight years of Trump’s tax returns in February after a years-long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court.

Investigators are notably looking into the remuneration of key executives at the Trump Organization, according to the Post.

According to several media, Vance’s team has been looking closely at the Trump Organization’s long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, one of the family’s most loyal servants.

Investigators believe Weisselberg knows all of the Trump family secrets and have been putting pressure on him for months to cooperate with their investigation.

Observers are closely watching whether Weisselberg will turn against his former boss.

Trump’s ex-personal lawyer Michael Cohen — jailed for tax evasion and violating campaign finance laws — was one of his closest henchmen before turning against his former boss and deciding to cooperate with prosecutors.

Antony Blinken announces American aid to Gaza, pledges to reopen Jerusalem consulate

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged on a Middle East mission on Tuesday that Washington would provide new aid to help rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to bolster a ceasefire between its Hamas Islamist rulers and Israel.

Hoping to reverse a move taken by former President Donald Trump that angered Palestinians, Blinken said the United States would advance the process of re-opening the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.

Speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken said the United States would provide an additional $75 million in development and economic aid to the Palestinians in 2021, $5.5 million in immediate disaster relief for Gaza and $32 million to U.N. Palestinian aid agency.

But Blinken reiterated that Washington intended to ensure that Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, did not benefit from the humanitarian aid – a potentially difficult task in an enclave over which it has a strong grip.

Blinken began his regional visit in Jerusalem, where he held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, speaking to reporters with the top U.S. diplomat at his side, threatened a “very powerful response” if Hamas renewed cross-border rocket strikes.

The truce, brokered by Egypt and coordinated with the United States, began on Friday after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in years. Now in its fifth day, it has been holding.

“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said.

“And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”

Blinken will be in the region through Thursday, and will also travel to Egypt and Jordan. In tandem with his visit, Israeli authorities allowed fuel, medicine and food earmarked for Gaza’s private sector to enter the territory for the first time since the hostilities began on May 10.

Blinken said re-opening the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem would be “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people”.

The Trump administration merged the consulate with the U.S. Embassy in Israel in 2019, two years after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and later moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Those moves broke with long-standing U.S. policy and infuriated Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as capital of future state.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as its unpided capital.

Biden has no plans to reverse the embassy relocation but has moved in the early months of his term to repair relations with Palestinians. In April, Biden restored hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid cut by Trump.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Abbas thanked the U.S. “for its commitment to the two-state solution (and maintaining) the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif,” a Jerusalem compound holy to Muslims and Jews that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Abbas also thanked Blinken for what he called American support “for the preservation of (Palestinian) residents of … Sheikh Jarrah,” an East Jerusalem neighbourhood where the potential evictions of Palestinian families helped spark the Israel-Gaza fighting.

Two states
Negotiations between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank, collapsed in 2014.

While Biden has said a two-state solution was the only answer to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, U.S. officials have suggested it was too early for wider peace talks.

Israel is in political flux after four inconclusive elections in two years, and the Palestinians are pided by enmity between Hamas and Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank.

Blinken said he and Netanyahu discussed “other steps” that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to set “a better course” for Israelis and Palestinians.

“As President Biden said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” Blinken said.

At least 254 people were killed in Gaza and more than 1,900 wounded, Palestinian health authorities said, during the fighting that saw hundreds of Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli military put the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds treated for injuries after rocket salvoes caused panic and sent people as far away as Tel Aviv rushing into shelters.

Commercial buildings, residential towers and private houses across the Gaza Strip, where two million people live, were damaged or destroyed by the time the ceasefire was announced.

In Gaza, Palestinian officials estimated reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars. Israel has blockaded the territory since 2007, in what Palestinians condemn as collective punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures.

Israel says air strikes hit legitimate military targets and that it did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, including giving prior warnings when it was about to strike residential buildings that it said also had a military use.