Israel bombs Gaza as minister poised to quit government

AFP , Saturday 8 Jun 2024

Israel pressed its bombardment of Gaza on Saturday as a war cabinet minister looked set to carry through on his threat to quit a government under mounting pressure over its conduct of the military campaign.

Rafah
File photo: Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip AP

 

Strikes rattled various parts of the Gaza Strip and appeared to be focused on central areas of the Palestinian territory, witnesses and AFP journalists reported.

The onslaught persisted, despite scrutiny on Israel after its warplanes carried out an attack Thursday on a UN-run school that a Gaza hospital said killed 37 people.

The Israeli military acknowledged it conducted the strike in the Nuseirat refugee camp, saying it targeted a base of the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and killed 17 "terrorists".

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, accused the army of providing "false information". The group said three people Israel listed as dead were still alive.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees that ran the school, condemned Israel for striking a facility it said had been housing 6,000 displaced people.

In a post on social media platform X, the agency said the "school turned shelter" had been hit "without prior warning".

"Targeting UN premises or using them for military purposes cannot become the new norm. This must stop and all those responsible be held accountable," it said.

Israel accuses Hamas and its allies in Gaza of using civilian infrastructure, including UN-run facilities, as operational centres -- charges the militants deny.

 

'Defenceless'
 

The war, now in its ninth month, has brought widespread devastation to Gaza, with one in 20 people dead or wounded, according to the territory's health ministry. Most of Gaza's 2.4 million inhabitants are displaced.

This grim reality was underscored by a strike whose aftermath, depicted in an AFP video, saw men salvaging what they could from a bombed-out Gaza City building and carrying away a shrouded body in a debris-strewn alley.

Maher al-Mughair, who lives nearby, recounted the attack on Friday, saying: "We heard what sounded like a drone firing a missile, followed by another coming from an F-16 fighter jet.

"So we checked and found women and children in pieces. What did the children and women do wrong? They are defenceless people, merely civilians," he told AFPTV.

In the same city on Saturday, five people were killed and seven wounded when an Israeli warplane bombed the Mhana family's home in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, Gaza emergency services said.

Elsewhere, medics at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital said six people were killed and others wounded in an Israeli rocket attack on the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, where witnesses said gun battles raged.

The Israeli army said it struck "dozens of terrorist cells and infrastructures" in Deir al-Balah and Bureij in the past day. Troops were also carrying out operations in Rafah.

Israel's military offensive since October 7 has killed at least 36,731 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

 

Political fallout
 

Israel faced growing diplomatic isolation, with international court cases accusing it of war crimes and several European countries recognising a Palestinian state.

Israel's UN envoy, Gilad Erdan, said Friday he was "disgusted" that the Israeli military would be on an upcoming United Nations list of countries and armed forces that fail to protect children during war.

A diplomatic source later told AFP that Hamas as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad would also be included in the annual UN report, which highlights human rights violations against children in conflict zones and is expected by the end of June.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are designated as terrorist organisations by several countries, including the United States and the European Union.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to address the US Congress next month, also faces pressure from within his right-wing government.

The office of war cabinet member Benny Gantz has announced a news conference for Saturday, the deadline he gave Netanyahu last month to approve a post-war plan for Gaza.

Israeli media have speculated that Gantz, a centrist former military chief who had been one of Netanyahu's main rivals before joining the war cabinet, was likely to carry through on a threat to resign.

However, any such move is not expected to affect the stability of Netanyahu's government, a coalition of his right-wing Likud with far-right and ultra-orthodox Jewish parties.

 

US diplomacy
 

Latest efforts to mediate the first ceasefire in the conflict since a week-long pause in November appear to have stalled a week after US President Joe Biden offered a new roadmap.

Biden, under pressure for the war to end ahead of a November presidential election, said the plan was to halt the fighting for six weeks while captives are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The plan would also involve the stepped-up delivery of aid into Gaza.

The G7 group of world powers, and Arab states, have backed the proposal, with 16 world leaders joining Biden's call for Hamas to accept the deal.

Hamas has yet to respond to Biden's proposal. Israel has expressed openness to discussions but remains committed to destroying the Islamist group.

Major sticking points include Hamas insisting on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal -- demands Israel has rejected.

In a new diplomatic push, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit Israel and key regional partners Egypt, Jordan and Qatar from Monday on his eighth Middle East trip since the war began.

The top US diplomat would "emphasise the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table" which "would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians", said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

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