Israel’s Netanyahu says Gaza attacks will go on ‘as long as necessary’
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said attacks on Gaza will continue “as long necessary”, amid continuing hostilities that have so far killed 148 Palestinians and 10 people in Israel.
At least three Palestinians were killed in airstrikes early on Sunday, health officials said, and many were injured. The sounds of heavy bombardment were heard through the night.
According to photographs circulated by residents and journalists, the airstrikes created a crater that blocked one of the main roads leading to Shifa, the largest hospital in the Strip. Reported efforts to agree on a temporary ceasefire to allow medics in Gaza to recover people – both alive and dead – from under collapsed buildings appeared in doubt.
The UN security council was due to hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of violence in years.
Diplomacy has so far failed to halt the bloodshed. Hours after Israel bombed a 12-storey building on Saturday that had housed the US news agency Associated Press, Netanyahu said the US president, Joe Biden, had offered his “clear and unequivocal support” during a phone call.
The White House said Biden had “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel” to defend itself and also “raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists”.
Since the violence began on Monday, at least 41 children have been killed in Gaza – nearly 30% of the death toll – according to officials. On Saturday, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed eight young cousins who had gathered to celebrate Eid with their mothers.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 of their members killed since the fighting broke out.
Israeli deaths from militants firing close to 3,000 rockets during the same period include two children. Air defences have intercepted roughly a third of the rockets, Israeli forces have said.
Overnight, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire went off in Tel Aviv and its suburbs and in southern Israel. About 10 people were injured while running for shelters, medics said.
The country’s military said the al-Jala building that it bombed on Saturday, which housed Associated Press and Qatar-based Al Jazeera media operations, was a legitimate target. It said the high-rise contained Hamas military offices, and that it had given warnings to civilians to leave before the attack.
Associated Press condemned the attack, and asked Israel to put forward evidence. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” the news organisation said in a statement.
Late on Saturday, Netanyahu said Israel was “still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary”.
In a burst of airstrikes early on Sunday, Israel targeted the home of Yehya al-Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, who since 2017 has headed the group’s political and military wings in Gaza, Hamas’s TV station said.
Envoys from the US, UN and Egypt were working to restore calm but had yet to show any signs of progress.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, reminded “all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs”, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Saturday.
Hamas began its rocket assault on Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said late on Saturday that the underlying cause of the hostilities was Jerusalem.
“The Zionists thought … they could demolish al-Aqsa mosque. They thought they could displace our people in Sheikh Jarrah,” said Haniyeh.
“I say to Netanyahu: do not play with fire,” he continued, amid cheers from the crowd. “The title of this battle today, the title of the war, and the title of the intifada, is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.”
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired about 2,300 rockets from Gaza since Monday, the Israeli military said on Saturday.
Israel has launched more than 1,000 air and artillery strikes into the densely populated coastal strip, saying they were aimed at Hamas and other militant targets.
There has been a flurry of US diplomacy in recent days to try to quell the violence. Biden also spoke with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, late on Saturday and the US envoy Hady Amr was in Israel for talks.
However, mediation is complicated by the fact that the US and most western powers do not talk to Hamas, which they regard as a terrorist organisation. And Abbas, whose power base is in the occupied West Bank, exerts little influence over Hamas in Gaza.
In Israel, the conflict has been accompanied by violence among the country’s mixed communities of Jews and Arabs, with synagogues attacked and Arab-owned shops vandalised.
There has also been an upsurge in deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops there since Friday, most of them during protests and confrontations.
On Saturday demonstrations condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza took place around the world, including in London, Europe, the US and Australia.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Published at Sun, 16 May 2021 08:50:55 +0000
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