Gaza reels under Israeli strikes as violence enters second week

AFP , Monday 17 May 2021

Air strikes sent dust clouds, as the Hamas militant group that controls the besieged and densely populated coastal strip threatened more rocket strikes on Tel Aviv if bombing of residential areas does not stop.

A man inspects the rubble of destroyed commercial building and Gaza health care clinic following an Israeli airstrike on the upper floors of a commercial building near the Health Ministry in Gaza City, on Monday, May 17, 2021. AP

Israeli jets kept pounding Gaza Monday evening, as the enclave's residents cowered indoors and the violence that has killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, entered a second week.

Air strikes sent dust clouds billowing into the skyline, as the Hamas militant group that controls the besieged and densely populated coastal strip threatened more rocket strikes on Tel Aviv if bombing of residential areas does not stop.

US President Joe Biden said early Monday evening Israeli time he would shortly talk with the Jewish state's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after diplomats said Washington had blocked a third draft UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the violence.

As the sun set, Gaza resident Roba Abu al-Awf, 20, said she was bracing for a rough night. 'We have nothing to do but sit at home,' she said.

'Death could come at any moment the bombing is crazy and indiscriminate.'

Some 3,200 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel since the conflict escalated on May 10 in the heaviest exchange of fire in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem.

When asked whether he would join international calls for a ceasefire, Biden told reporters at the White House 'I will be speaking with the (Israeli) prime minister in an hour and I'll be able to talk to you after that.'

Israel's army said Monday it had hit the homes of nine 'high-ranking' Hamas commanders overnight, a day after bombing the house of Yahya Sinwar, head of the group's political wing.

It gave no details of any casualties.

Thousands homeless

Fighter jets also hit what the Israeli army calls the 'Metro,' its term for Hamas' underground tunnels, which Israel has previously acknowledged runs in part through civilian areas.

The renewed strikes come a day after 42 Palestinians in Gaza including at least eight children and two doctors, according to the health ministry were killed in the worst daily death toll in the enclave since the bombardments began.

In total, 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 59 children, and more than 1,300 wounded since Israel launched its air campaign against Hamas after the group fired rockets, according to the authorities there.

Israel says 10 people, including one child, have been killed and more than 300 wounded by rocket fire that has been the most intense to ever rain down on the Jewish state.

Israeli bombardment of Gaza has displaced 38,000 people and made 2,500 homeless, the United Nations says.

It has also battered crucial infrastructure, with the electricity authority Monday warning it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.

On Saturday, Israel gave journalists from Al Jazeera and AP news agency an hour to evacuate their offices before launching air strikes, turning their tower block into a pile of smoking rubble.

Netanyahu on Sunday said the building also hosted a Palestinian 'terrorist' intelligence office and claimed it was a 'perfectly legitimate target'.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Monday he had requested 'details' and a 'justification' for the strike.

The violence between Hamas and Israel is the worst since 2014, when Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip with the stated aim of ending rocket fire and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.

The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Opening a session of the UN Security Council on the renewed violence on Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the fighting 'utterly appalling'.

But the UN talks resulted in little progress, with Washington on Monday blocking for the third time this week a draft resolution calling for a halt to the violence.

Biden's administration says it is working behind the scenes, and that a Security Council statement could backfire.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and the Egyptian government a key intermediary on Monday.

'Intensive diplomacy'

'The United States is engaged in quiet, intensive diplomacy and our efforts will continue,' Sullivan said.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced "solidarity" with Israel in a call with Netanyahu on Monday, reaffirming the Jewish state's 'right to defend itself' against rocket attacks, her spokesman said.

US envoy for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr was in Ramallah on Monday and met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, who urged Washington to act against 'Israel's aggression,' the official Wafa news agency reported.

Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinians since May 10.

A 56-year-old Israeli man who was beaten by Arab suspects in the city of Lod last week died in hospital on Monday, police said.

Clashes broke out at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound one of Islam's holiest sites on May 7 after Israeli forces moved in on worshippers.

This followed a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Guterres warned that the fighting could 'unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole'.


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