Israel steps up Gaza attacks as UN talks stall

0
12

Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip stretched into a second week after international efforts to secure a ceasefire stalled and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the fighting would continue with “full force”.

Israel’s aerial bombardment of the blockaded strip included the homes of nine commanders of Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Israeli army said on Monday, a day after it struck the homes of Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar and his brother.

Witnesses described synchronised early morning air strikes in the northern edge of the Hamas-controlled Mediterranean enclave, and in Gaza City, its densely populated urban centre. Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.

As of Sunday night, Israeli strikes had killed 197 Palestinians, including 92 women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel has reported 10 dead from the Hamas attacks, including two children.

Netanyahu said late on Sunday the country would continue its military campaign against the Islamist group “with full force”.

“There is talk about international pressure. There is always pressure but all in all we are receiving very serious backing, first of all from the US,” he said.

No statement was released after a meeting of the UN Security Council on the conflict on Sunday. The US twice blocked Security Council statements or lesser measures last week during closed meetings about the violence.

US president Joe Biden said in a taped message for Eid al-Fitr, the religious festival that marks the end of Ramadan, that he was working with Palestinians and Israelis towards “sustained calm”.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said that he had spoken with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. “The violence must end immediately,” he wrote on Twitter.

Israeli air strikes on Sunday toppled residential buildings in a middle-class neighbourhood, killing at least 42 people buried under the rubble, including 10 children, the Gazan health ministry said. The Israel Defence Force called the deaths “unintended,” saying the bombings had targeted a nearby underground network of Hamas tunnels.

The Israeli military has sought the return of the bodies of two soldiers before it will consider a truce with Hamas, a government aide said. Also at stake is the fate of two Israeli civilians held in Gaza, the aide added. Hamas has held on to the bodies for a possible prisoner exchange.

Protesters against Israeli air strikes attend a rally in Chicago, Illinois on Sunday © Getty Images

Mediation by the UN, Egypt and Qatar to broker a two-hour ceasefire and allow fuel into Gaza failed after Israel’s military struck Sinwar’s home on Saturday night, according to an Egyptian diplomat briefed on talks. Sinwar was released from an Israeli prison in 2011 during a prisoner swap and has since risen to the top of Hamas’s leadership.

On Sunday, UN trucks transporting fuel managed to reach Gaza’s only power plant during a lull in the fighting, one western diplomat told the FT.

Gaza’s 2m residents have been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007 in response to Hamas’s victory in Palestinian legislative elections the year earlier.

The conflict has widened beyond the Gaza Strip, with communal strife erupting in Israeli cities between Jews and minority Arabs with Israeli nationality, as well as in the occupied West Bank.

A total of 21 Palestinians in the West Bank, including in occupied East Jerusalem, have been killed and more than 4,000 injured in 10 days of clashes with Israeli soldiers, the Palestinian health ministry said. The territory, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war, is the seat of Fatah, Hamas’s rival Palestinian faction.

A vast police deployment in several mixed Israeli cities appeared to have quelled communal violence, which had exposed a deep rift in Israeli society, with dozens of Jews and Arabs being assaulted, synagogues and hundreds of cars burnt.

The latest crisis was triggered when police used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against Palestinian protesters in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. More than 600 Palestinians were wounded.

The al-Aqsa mosque is located in a compound in Jerusalem that is sacred to both religions. Hamas entered the fray last week, firing rockets deep into Israel, which responded with air strikes. The Islamist group has launched more than 3,100 rockets since Monday, according to the IDF, which has conducted 1,500 strikes.