Israeli airstrikes pummel Gaza as violence enters 2nd week
Israel pummeled Gaza City with airstrikes early Monday as violence in the region entered its second week.
The Israeli military said targets included tunnels used by Hamas and homes belonging to several commanders of the militant group that rules Gaza.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza to end rocket attacks against Israel immediately, and said Monday that while Israel has a right to defend itself, it has a burden to avoid civilian casualties.
Blinken said the United States has been “working intensively behind the scenes” to try to bring an end to the violence, including phone calls Sunday with his counterparts in Egypt, Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and France.
Monday’s violence followed comments Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was not planning any “immediate” end to deadly airstrikes on Gaza.
He spoke the same day that Israeli jet fighters flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people, the deadliest single attack in the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas.
On Sunday morning, Hamas launched rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli civilian areas. One hit a synagogue in Ashkelon, a southern city, hours before evening services for Jewish holiday of Shavuot. No injuries were reported.
Since the fighting began on May 10, at least 197 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 10 Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a six-year-old.
In a televised address flanked by his defense minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity, Netanyahu told the Jewish state Sunday that the attacks were continuing at “full force” and will “take time.”
“I hope it won’t take long,” Netanyahu told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show in the United States. But he said the end of the attacks was “not immediate” despite international efforts to broker a cease-fire in the weeklong exchange of missile fire between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu defended the destruction Saturday of a 12-story building in Gaza City where the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera news organizations were based, as well as apartments and other offices.
The building’s owner received a warning by telephone from the Israeli military an hour before the attack, and AP staffers and other building occupants evacuated the building immediately. Netanyahu said no one was injured in the attack. Al-Jazeera continued to broadcast the airstrikes as the building collapsed.
The Israeli leader said the building, in addition to housing the media offices, was home to the “intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization.”
“It is a perfectly legitimate target,” he contended.
Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, called Sunday for an independent investigation of the airstrike.
She said the AP offices had been in that building for years and there had never been any indication that Hamas might be there.
“We are in a conflict situation,” Buzbee said. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”
Separately, hundreds of people took to the streets in Lebanon Sunday to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
The U.N. Security Council met Sunday to try to figure out how to quell the violence and the United States dispatched a diplomat to the region to try to broker a cease-fire.
The latest outbreak of fighting began last Monday after conflicts in east Jerusalem last month. Palestinian clashes with police erupted in response to Israeli police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Jewish settlers threatening to evict dozens of Palestinian families. A focal point of the unrest was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on a hilltop compound that is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Biden called Netanyahu on Saturday and said he condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and reaffirmed his support for Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas and other terrorist groups. The U.S. leader also expressed concern for the safety of journalists and the need to ensure their protection, according to a White House readout of the call.
Biden also spoke by phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their first conversation since Biden assumed the U.S. presidency in January.
Hady Amr, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, was in Israel and set to meet with Israeli leaders Sunday, then with Palestinian officials in the West Bank to find a “sustainable calm,” the State Department said.
European Union foreign ministers will have a videoconference Tuesday about the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said on Twitter Sunday that the ministers will “discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”