Israeli strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip yesterday, the worst daily toll yet in almost a week of deadly clashes, as Palestinian and Israeli leaders both appealed for support at a UN Security Council session but little action was in sight.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded for an immediate end to the bloody violence, warning that the fighting could plunge the region into an "uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis".
"Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately," Guterres said as he opened a Security Council session delayed by Israel's ally the United States.
Guterres called the violence "utterly appalling".
The heaviest fire in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has killed 192 in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza since Monday along with 10 in Israel, according to authorities on either side.
Israel said its "continuing wave of strikes" had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across Gaza, where the destruction of a building housing news media organisations sparked an international outcry.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in a televised address said: "We will continue to act as long as it is necessary to restore calm and security for you citizens of Israel. It will take time."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki yesterday accused Israel of committing "war crimes" in its nearly weeklong offensive on Gaza as he urged international pressure at a United Nations Security Council session.
"Some may not want to use these words – war crimes and crimes against humanity – but they know they are true," al-Maliki told the virtual session on the crisis.
He also renewed the charge – angrily denounced by Israel – that Tel Aviv is pursuing a policy of "apartheid" against the Palestinians.
Israel "is an occupying colonial power. Any assessment of the situation that fails to take into account this fundamental fact is biased", al-Maliki said. "Israel always says, put yourselves in our shoes. But Israel is not wearing shoes. It is wearing military boots."
Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the UN, meanwhile blasted Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel as premeditated.
"It was completely premeditated by Hamas in order to gain political power," said Erdan.
He said the Hamas had escalated tensions due to internal Palestinian political manoeuvres after the PA President Mahmoud Abbas delayed long-awaited elections.
Amid the political wrangling, in Gaza, the death toll kept rising as emergency teams worked to extract bodies from vast piles of smoking rubble, as the bereaved wailed in grief.
"We were sleeping and then all of a sudden there were rockets raining down on us," said Lamia Al-Koulak, 43, who lost siblings and their children in the dawn bombardment.
"The children were screaming. For half an hour we were bombarded without previous warning. We came out to find the building next door flattened. All the people under the rubble were simple people."
Israel's army yesterday said that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip towards Israel -- the highest rate ever recorded.
Around 450 fell within the Gaza Strip, while the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted over 1,000, the army said.
Rockets have hit a number of Israeli residential districts and wounded over 280 people.
Isareli army chief Aviv Kochavi said Israel had responded with a unpprecedented force.
"Hamas misjudged the strength of our response," he said yesterday.
At least 58 children have died in Gaza, local health authorities said, more than 1,200 people have been wounded, and entire buildings and city blocks reduced to rubble.
The Israel army says it takes all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians, and blames Hamas for deliberately placing military targets in densely populated areas.
Pope Francis warned of a descent "into a spiral of death and destruction".
"Where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?" he asked.
The conflict has also sparked inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank, where 19 Palestinians have been killed since Monday.
The Israeli army said it had targeted the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including a vast tunnel system, weapons factories and storage sites.
Israeli air strikes also hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas' political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said, releasing footage of plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.
Balls of flame and a cloud of debris shot into the sky Saturday afternoon as Israel's air force flattened the 13-floor Gaza building housing Al Jazeera and AP news agency, after giving just an hour to evacuate.
Netanyahu yesterday defended the strike, alleging the building also hosted a Palestinian "terrorist" intelligence office.
"So it is a perfectly legitimate target," Netanyahu told CBS News. "I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries, in fact, no deaths."
China yesterday accused the US of blocking a UN Security Council statement on the violence.
"Simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn't been able to speak with one voice," Foreign Minister Wang Yi, whose country holds the Council's rotating presidency, told a virtual session.
"We call upon the United States to shoulder its due responsibilities."
The United States, Israel's main ally, delayed the Council session last week, and has shown little enthusiasm for a statement.
President Joe Biden's administration says it is working behind the scenes and that a Security Council statement could backfire.
In public remarks, the Biden administration has steadfastly backed Israel's right to self-defence, while urging de-escalation.
The conflict was sparked by clashes between riot police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, fuelled by outrage over Israeli police actions at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque and planned Israeli expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of the city's Israeli-occupied east.