Israeli bombardment kills more Palestinians amid mounting ceasefire calls

Israel’s bombing campaign has killed at least 213 Gaza, including 61 children. Palestinians across the West Bank and in east Jerusalem have mobilized in solidarity, staging protests and a general strike which, shuttering non-essential businesses.

Heavy Israeli bombardment claimed more lives in Gaza on Tuesday as Palestinians staged “day of rage” protests in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting amid a diplomatic push to end the assault on Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would “continue striking at the terrorist targets”.

Israel’s intense bombing campaign has killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The death toll on the Israeli side rose to 12 when a volley of rockets fired by Hamas, the Islamist group which control Gaza, hit Israel’s southern Eshkol region, killing two Thai nationals working in a factory and wounding several others, police said.

Israeli strikes that again sent fireballs, debris and black smoke into the sky have levelled homes and multi-story towers, cratered roads and left two million Palestinians in the enclave desperate for reprieve.

“They destroyed our house, but I don’t know why they targeted us,” said Nazmi al-Dahdouh, 70, of Gaza City who remained shocked by what he called “a terrifying, violent night”.

The humanitarian crisis deepened in the impoverished strip, from where Hamas has launched nearly 3,500 rockets at Israel since May 10, forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters.

But a convoy of international aid trucks that started rolling into Gaza through a border crossing from Israel, Kerem Shalom, was halted when Israel quickly shuttered it again, citing a mortar attack on the area.

The UN 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.

However, 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.

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 conflict risks precipitating a humanitarian disaster, with the UN saying nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been displaced and 2,500 have lost their homes.

Fighter jets have hit what the Israeli military dubs the “metro”, its term for Hamas’s underground tunnels.

Israeli fire has battered crucial Gaza 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.

A strike Monday knocked out Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said, and 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 territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients.

Meanwhile, Palestinians across the West Bank and in east Jerusalem mobilized Tuesday for protests and a general strike that shuttered non-essential businesses, in support of those under bombardment in Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement had called for a “day of rage”, a call echoed in Palestinian and ethnically mixed towns inside Israel.

“We are here to raise our voice and stand with the people in Gaza who are being bombed,” Ramallah protester Aya Dabour told AFP.

An AFP reporter heard bursts of gunfire as thousands of Palestinian protesters faced Israeli troops north of Ramallah. 

Tensions again flared in east Jerusalem’s flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Palestinian protesters faced off against police, ahead of a planned demonstration at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City.

Israel’s army said it had “neutralized” an assailant allegedly attempting to attack soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday. The Palestinian health ministry confirmed the man’s death.

The conflict was sparked after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of worshippers in the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

This followed a brutal crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

Inter-communal violence has also erupted between Jews and Palestinian-Israelis, while in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 21 Palestinians since May 10.

 Ceasefire calls

On a visit to Iceland, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had received further information requested from Israel about its destruction of a Gaza high-rise that housed the local offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news organizations.

Blinken gave no details about the information he said came through intelligence channels about Saturday’s attack.

Calling Netanyahu on Monday night, U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel had the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks but encouraged it to make every effort to protect civilians, the White House said. 

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

Germany called for a ceasefire and offered more aid to help Palestinians before emergency European Union talks.

General strikes were held on Tuesday in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, Arab towns within Israel and in cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Ramadan clashes between police and worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and Israeli settlers’ attempt to expel Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem have caused anger among Palestinians.

In the West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian who tried to attack them with a gun and improvised explosives, and an unmanned aerial vehicle was downed near the border with Jordan on Tuesday, Israel’s military said.

Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces at a West Bank protest, health officials said. The military said soldiers had come under fire, which wounded two of them, and shot back.

Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, deplored the general strikes as “another blow to the delicate fabric of relations and cooperation between Jews and Arabs”.

Palestinian businesses in East Jerusalem were shuttered, including in the walled Old City, and in the mixed Jewish-Arab port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Protest organizer Raja Zaatar said 90% of businesses were shut in Arab neighborhoods.

Overall, in Israel, the strike appeared to have little effect on the general pace of commerce, or on the high-tech industry. An official at a large supermarket chain in which many Arab workers are employed said its stores were operating as usual, though some deliveries were delayed.

Strike participation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, seemed high, a Reuters witness said.

“We closed our shop like everyone else in solidarity with all Palestinians against the acts that are carried out against all of us,” said Mahmoud Jabr, 50, a Ramallah grocery store owner.

Ra’afat al-Saman, a business owner in East Jerusalem’s Salahaddin street, named after the Muslim conqueror who seized Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, said: “This is the least we could do for our own people.”