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Israel-Gaza violence shows few signs of slowing as global diplomacy ramps up

Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 13 May 2021. (Photo: SAID KHATIB / AFP)

GAZA/TEL AVIV, May 18 (Reuters) - More than a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas showed few signs of abating on Tuesday despite intense U.S. and global diplomacy to stop the region's fiercest hostilities in years.

* Israel bombs Gaza; rocket fire continues but at lower pace

* U.S., regional mediators press for end to violence

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub

 

The Israeli military said late on Monday that Hamas and other Palestinian groups had fired about 3,350 rockets from Gaza – 200 of them on Monday alone – and that Israeli air and artillery strikes had killed at least 130 militants.

Gaza health officials put the Palestinian death toll at 212, including 61 children and 36 women, since hostilities began last week. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children.

Amid seemingly fruitless diplomatic efforts to stop the violence, the top U.S. military officer, Army General Mark Milley, warned that the violence could spread.

“My assessment is that you risk broader destabilization and you risk a whole series of negative consequences if the fighting continues,” Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters before landing in Brussels on Monday for talks with NATO allies. “It’s in no one’s interest to continue fighting.”

Around midnight, six shells were fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel, but fell short of crossing the border, the Israeli military said, adding that it fired artillery at “the sources of the launches” in Lebanon.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said that it was intensifying patrols after it detected the firing of rockets from the area of Rashaya Al Foukhar, north of Kfar Choub in southern Lebanon.

UNIFIL added on Twitter that the situation in the area was now calm and that its head of mission remained in contact with all parties to ensure stability. Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, trading rockets and air strikes, but the border has since been mostly quiet.

 

DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his support for a ceasefire during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, the White House said in a statement.

But Netanyahu told Israelis earlier that strikes against militant sites and leaders in Gaza would carry on.

“The directive is to continue to strike at terror targets,” he said in a televised speech, after meeting with military and intelligence chiefs. “We will continue to act as necessary to restore peace and security to all residents of Israel.”

The armed wing of Hamas promised more rockets in return: “The criminal Zionist enemy intensified its bombing of homes and residential apartments in the recent hours, and therefore, we warn the enemy that if it did not stop that immediately, we would resume rocketing Tel Aviv,” said spokesman Abu Ubaida.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged all sides to protect civilians.

Although stressing that Israel had the right to defend itself, Blinken said he had not seen any evidence from Israel about its suggestion that Hamas was operating out of a building housing media outlets – including the U.S.-based Associated Press – which was destroyed in an Israeli missile strike at the weekend.

Hamas denied having offices in the building. “These are false allegations and an attempt to justify the crime of targeting a civilian tower,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Egypt and U.N. mediators also stepped up diplomatic efforts, while the U.N. General Assembly will meet to discuss the violence on Thursday.

The Biden administration approved the potential sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, and congressional sources said on Monday that U.S. lawmakers were not expected to object to the deal.

 

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

Hamas began its rocket assault last 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.

The hostilities between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza have been accompanied by an uptick of violence in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule.

There have also been clashes between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities in mixed areas.

Israel’s president has warned that tension between Jewish and Arab Israelis could devolve into “civil war”.

General strikes are planned for Tuesday in Arab towns within Israel and Palestinian towns in the West Bank, with posts on social media urging solidarity “from the sea to the river.” (Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Stephen Farrell, Michelle Nichols, Edmund Blair, Nayera Abdallah and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Whether Hamas had offices in the Media center or not, it provided a bloodthirsty Netanyahu with the perfect ‘excuse’ to eliminate media in the area – because they report on the realities on the ground – which he finds embarrassing. That certain segments of people who experienced a holocaust, would support a regime that is doing the same to Palestinians, is remarkable. Remember it was Israel and the US who were ardent supporters of our apartheid regime and called the ANC a ‘terrorrist’ organisation at one time. Using ‘labels’ does not make it a fact. If Palestinians support Hamas, why and who are we to object ? The powerful want to prescribe to an oppressed people, who they should support. Biden does not even have the guts to tell Israel to stop building settlements on occupied land, like Barak at least did…BUT continued providing massive funding for the occupiers to continue their disregard of international law ! If so called ‘defending’ yourself against aggression also permits you the right to perpetrate atrocities including the destruction of a peoples infrastructure…it is time for a rethink ! No wonder both the US and Israel refuse to be part of the ICC . They want to be a law unto themselves ! How shameless can one get ?

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