Mon, 21 Jun 2021

The UN Security Council is due to meet on Sunday as Israeli air strikes continue to pound Gaza and Hamas militants fire rocket salvoes from the Palestinian enclave, a day after Israel's destruction of a tower block that housed news media organisations sparked international outcry.

The hostilities showed no sign of letting up as they entered a seventh day, with Palestinians saying at least 149 people have been killed since the fighting began on Monday, including 41 children, and another 1,100 have been wounded.

Israel has reported 10 dead, including a child and a soldier. At least 560 Israelis have also been wounded.

Israeli air strikes hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas' political wing in the densely populated Gaza Strip, the army said early on Sunday, without saying if he was killed. AFP witnesses confirmed a strike had hit Sinwar's house.

On Saturday, another strike on Gaza killed 10 members of an extended family. The children "didn't carry weapons, they didn't fire rockets", said Mohammad al-Hadidi, one of the grieving fathers.

The UN Security Council was due to meet Sunday to discuss the bloodiest conflict between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants since 2014.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "dismayed" by civilian casualties in Gaza and "deeply disturbed" by Israel's strike on the tower housing news bureaus, a spokesperson said Saturday. Guterres "reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs", he said.

European Union foreign ministers will also hold urgent video talks on the escalating violence on Tuesday, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on Sunday. "We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence," Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.

Israel ally Washington, which blocked Security Council action on Friday, has been criticised for not doing enough to stem the bloodshed.

US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was to hold talks Sunday with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian officials to seek a "sustainable calm", the State Department said.

US President Joe Biden again underscored Israel's right to defend itself in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden also expressed his "grave concern" over the violence as well as for the safety of journalists.

In a televised statement late Saturday, Netanyahu thanked Biden for "unequivocal support". Netanyahu told the US that Israel did its utmost to safeguard civilians in its Gaza bombing campaign. "The proof is that towers containing terror sites are cleared of uninvolved people prior to being attacked," he said.

AP 'shocked and horrified' by strike on media offices

Mohammed al-Hadidi said he had lost most of his family in Saturday's strike on a three-storey building in the Shati refugee camp that killed 10 relatives - two mothers and their four children each. Israel's army claimed the building was used by senior Hamas officials.

"They are striking our children - children - without prior warning," said the devastated father, whose five-month-old baby was also wounded in the explosion.

Palestinian militants responded with volleys of rockets into Israel, killing a man on the outskirts of the commercial capital Tel Aviv, police and medics said.

Israeli air strikes brought down a 12-storey block in Gaza City which housed the US Associated Press and Qatar-based Al Jazeera media operations.

The Israel military said it was a legitimate military target, containing Hamas military offices, and that it had given warnings to civilians to get out of the building before the attack.

The strike was condemned by Al Jazeera and the AP, which asked the Israelis to put forward evidence.

"AP's bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building," the news organisation said. "We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk." AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said he was "shocked and horrified" by the attack.

"It is clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth," Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, told AFP.

The United States told Israel "that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

But both Israel and Hamas insisted they would pursue their campaigns, leaving no end to the hostilities in sight despite a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Sunday to discuss the worse outbreak of Israel-Palestinian violence in years.

"The party that bears the guilt for this confrontation is not us, it's those attacking us," Netanyahu said in a televised speech. "We are still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary."

Netanyahu said Israel's air and artillery barrage had eliminated dozens of Hamas militants and taken out "hundreds" of the Islamist militant group's sites including missile launchers and a vast tunnel network.

Al-Aqsa clashes

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.

>> Itamar Ben Gvir, the ultra-nationalist accused of stirring up violence in Jerusalem

Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday the fighting was primarily about 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," using the Arabic word for 'uprising'.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have fired around 2,300 rockets from Gaza since Monday, the Israeli military said on Saturday. It said about 1,000 were intercepted by missile defences and 380 fell into the Gaza Strip.

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.

The bombardments have sent columns of smoke above Gaza City and lit up the enclave's night sky.

Earlier this week the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told Reuters the court was "monitoring very closely" the latest escalation of hostilities, amid an investigation now under way into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict.

Netanyahu accused Hamas of "committing a double war crime" by targeting civilians, and using Palestinian civilians as "human shields."

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said on Saturday it had "serious concerns that the Israel air strikes attacks caused disproportionate destruction of civilian property" in Gaza.

Failed diplomacy

Biden's envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Israel on Friday, before a meeting on Sunday of the UN Security Council.

But diplomacy has so far failed to quell the worst escalation in fighting between Israel and Palestinians since 2014.

The White House said Biden updated Netanyahu on "high-level" contacts with regional partners to restore calm, and raised concerns about the safety of journalists. Biden also spoke with Abbas, for the first time since the US leader took office in January.

But diplomatic efforts are complicated by the fact the United States 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. Synagogues have been attacked, Arab-owned shops vandalised and street fights have broken out. Israel's president has warned of civil war.

There has also been an upsurge in deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli soldier shot at a Palestinian motorist who tried to run over soldiers at a military checkpoint late on Saturday, the military said. Palestinian health officials said the motorist had been killed. On Friday, 11 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops, Palestinian medics said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS & AFP)

Originally published on France24

More Israel News

Access More

Sign up for Israel News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!