Bombardment of Gaza: Diplomacy yet to bear fruit | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 19, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:50 AM, May 19, 2021

Bombardment of Gaza: Diplomacy yet to bear fruit

Ceasefire calls fall on deaf ears; death toll hits 213

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

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.

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Israeli leaders said they would press on, for now, with an offensive to destroy the capabilities of the armed factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad, amid calls by the United States and other world powers for an end to the conflict.

"The fighting will not cease until we bring total and long-term quiet," Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in a video statement, blaming Hamas for the worst escalation in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years.

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 home-made 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 Gaza health ministry.

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

Two Thai workers were killed yesterday and seven people were wounded in a rocket strike on an Israeli farm just over the Gaza border, police said. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

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.

The Israeli army yesterday said 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.

"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".

Gaza resident Roba Abu al-Awf, 20, said she expected 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."

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.

Reuters reported a brief lull in fighting after early yesterday's bombardments on the tiny strip. The UN said it was able to send a small fuel convoy into the enclave, where it says 52,000 people are now displaced. It had to stop the operations after fighting resumed.

Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary care health centres, the United Nations humanitarian agency said. Some 47,000 of the 52,000 displaced had fled to UN schools.

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.

That came after the United States' top military officer warned the conflict is creating instability beyond Gaza, saying it is "in no one's interest to continue fighting".

"I believe that whatever the military objectives are out there, they need to be balanced against other consequences," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said.

"In my view, de-escalation is the smart course of action at this point for all parties concerned."

Palestinians across the West Bank and in east Jerusalem were yesterday 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.

Meanwhile, 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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