No respite from Israel-Gaza fighting as diplomatic efforts intensify: AFP report

AFP , Tuesday 18 May 2021

A strike late Monday knocked out Gaza's only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said

Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. – Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. AFP

The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday amid a diplomatic push to end the devastating conflict between Israel and Gaza's armed groups that has killed more than 220 people, most of them Palestinians.

Israel maintained its heaviest-ever daily rate of bombardment of the blockaded enclave overnight, sending a fireball and a black plume of smoke into the sky following one heavy strike, an AFP journalist reported.

Despite growing calls for an end to the violence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Monday that Israel would 'continue striking at the terrorist targets'.

Israel launched its air campaign on the Gaza Strip on May 10 after the enclave's rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, fired a barrage of rockets in response to unrest in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Israeli air strikes have killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Palestinian militants have fired around 3,350 rockets toward Israel that have killed 10 people, including a child, Israeli authorities said.

Air raid sirens again wailed in southern Israel through the morning, sending families fleeing into bomb shelters.

The Security Council session, the fourth since the conflict escalated, was called after the United States, a key Israel ally, blocked adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence on Monday for the third time in a week.

US President Joe Biden, having resisted joining other world leaders and much of his own Democratic party in calling for an immediate end to hostilities, told Netanyahu Monday night he backs a ceasefire, but stopped short of demanding a truce.

Covid test lab hit

Israel's overnight barrage again set the night sky over the densely populated coastal enclave ablaze as multiple strikes crashed into buildings in Gaza City shortly after midnight.

"They destroyed our house but I don't know why they targeted us,' said Nazmi al-Dahdouh, 70, of western Gaza City, adding he was now homeless after "a terrifying, violent night".

The Israeli army said on Tuesday it had struck dozens of 'targets' inside Gaza since midnight, while Palestinian militants had fired 70 rockets, dozens of which were intercepted by air defences.

A strike late Monday knocked out Gaza's only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said. The Qatari Red Crescent said a strike damaged one of its offices in the enclave.

The rate of positive coronavirus tests in Gaza has been among the highest in the world, at 28 percent.

Hospitals in the poverty-stricken territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients.

Israeli fire has cratered roads and battered crucial infrastructure, causing blackouts and prompting the electricity authority to warn Monday it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.

The UN on Tuesday praised Israel's decision to open the Kerem Shalom crossing so humanitarian goods could enter Gaza.

Israeli authorities told AFP there was no immediate timeframe for the re-opening.

The conflict risks precipitating a humanitarian disaster, with the UN saying nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been displaced and 2,500 have lost their homes.

Fighter jets hit what the Israeli military dubs the 'metro', its term for Hamas's underground tunnels, which Israel has previously acknowledged run in part through civilian areas.

Rockets have meanwhile also been fired at Israel from Lebanon, where protests against Israel's Gaza campaign have been held in the border area. The Israeli army said the six rockets did not reach its territory.

Day of anger strike

Palestinians across the West Bank and in east Jerusalem were Tuesday largely adhering to a general strike called in support of those under bombardment in Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement has called for a "day of anger" and strike, a call echoed in Arab and ethnically mixed towns inside Israel.

All non-essential Palestinian businesses were closed in West Bank cities and east Jerusalem, with large demonstrators planned for the afternoon, including at the flashpoint Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City.

'We are here to raise our voice and stand with the people in Gaza who are being bombed,' Ramallah protester Aya Dabour told AFP.

Israel's army said it had 'neutralised' an assailant attempting to attack soldiers in Hebron on Tuesday. The Palestinian health ministry confirmed the man's death.

Even as Security Council ceasefire efforts have faltered, Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and the Egyptian government -- a key intermediary  on Monday, saying that Washington was engaged in 'quiet, intensive diplomacy'.

The French and Egyptian presidents, Emmanuel Macron and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, are pushing for a ceasefire deal. Another channel has been opened, via the UN, with the help of Qatar and Egypt.

The military conflict was sparked after clashes broke out at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound ,one of Islam's holiest sites  after Israeli forces clashed with worshippers on May 7.

This followed a crackdown against protests over planned evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.

Israel has been trying to contain violence between Jews and Israeli Arabs, as well as unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 21 Palestinians since May 10.

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