Israel’s Gaza offensive enters 10th day as ceasefire calls intensify

At least 217 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza so far – including 63 children – while two children are among the 12 killed in Israel since fighting began

Israel bombarded Gaza with air strikes and Palestinian armed factions kept up cross-border rocket fire, with no sign on Wednesday of any imminent ceasefire despite international calls to end more than a week of fighting.

Israeli leaders said they were pressing on with an offensive against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, but an Israeli military spokesman acknowledged that with an estimated 12,000 missiles and mortars in the groups' Gaza arsenal, "they still have enough rockets to fire".

Two Thai workers were killed and seven people were wounded in a rocket strike on Tuesday on an Israeli farm just over the Gaza border, police said. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

Rockets were launched early on Wednesday, with sirens sounding in the coastal city of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, and in communities closer to the Gaza border. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

Randa Abu Sultan, 45, said her family were all gathered in one room to sit out the night.

"We're all terrified by the sound of explosions, missiles and fighter jets," the mother of seven told AFP.

"My four-year-old son tells me he's scared that if he falls asleep he'll wake up to find us dead."

Gaza medical officials said 217 Palestinians were killed, including 63 children, and more than 1,400 wounded since the fighting began on May 10. Israeli authorities said 12 people were killed in Israel, including two children.

Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip were destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres, since the current conflict began, the United Nations humanitarian agency said. About 48,000 of the 52,000 displaced had attended to 58 UN-run schools.

Israel said its aircraft attacked homes belonging to several Hamas militants that were used as command centres or for weapons storage. Israeli artillery shelled targets in the southern Gaza Strip, witnesses said.

The Israeli army said more than 3,450 rockets had been launched at the country from Gaza, some falling short and others shot down by its Iron Dome air defences. It put the number of militants it has killed at about 160.

Israel's near-relentless bombing campaign leaves two million Palestinians in Gaza desperate for reprieve.

The humanitarian crisis is deepening in the impoverished strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

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

On Tuesday, Israeli forces and protesters clashed across the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem, as Palestinians rallied in solidarity with their besieged Gazan counterparts.

Members of the Palestine community in Chile take part in a demonstration to protest against Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. AP
Members of the Palestine community in Chile take part in a demonstration to protest against Israel and in support of Palestinians, in Santiago. AP

The Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinians, including one the Israeli army said had tried to attack soldiers, bringing up to 24 those Palestinians killed there since May 10.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its teams treated more than 150 people in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, including 35 with bullet wounds.

Israel's army said troops came under fire north of Ramallah, and two of its soldiers were injured.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement had called for a "day of anger" on Tuesday, a call echoed in Arab and ethnically mixed towns in 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.

In East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, Palestinian protesters faced off against police, who used stun grenades and "skunk water" cannon to disperse protesters.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza, Ramadan clashes between police and worshippers at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem fuelled the tensions in the West Bank.

France on Tuesday called for a UN Security Council resolution on violence between Israel and Palestinian militants, as diplomats said the United States told the body a "public pronouncement right now" would not help calm the crisis.

"Our goal is to get to the end of this conflict. We are going to evaluate day by day what the right approach is. It continues to be that quiet, intensive behind-the-scenes discussions are tactically our approach at this time," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

A general view shows the Jalamah crossing point with Israel, north of Jenin refugee camp, on May 17, 2021.  AFP 
The Jalamah crossing point with Israel, north of Jenin refugee camp. AFP

The United States, a key Israel ally, repeatedly blocked the adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to the hostilities.

Zhang Jun, Beijing's ambassador to the UN, told reporters his team had heard the French ceasefire proposal and China was supportive.

Another diplomat said the proposal would seek to cease hostilities, but also "allow humanitarian access".

But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell backed mounting calls for a ceasefire and urged Israel's military to act in a proportionate manner.

Egypt and UN mediators stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the UN 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.

Israel's N12 TV news, quoting unidentified Palestinian sources, reported that Egypt, via "secret channels", had proposed that Israel-Gaza fighting end on Thursday morning.

Ezzat El Reshiq, a member of Hamas's political bureau, who is based in Qatar, issued a statement on Tuesday saying reports that it had agreed to such a ceasefire were untrue.

“There has been no agreement reached over specific timings for a ceasefire," he said. "We confirm that efforts and contacts are serious and are continuing and the demands of our people are known and clear."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in a post on Twitter on Tuesday that Israel's attacks "will continue for as long as it takes to restore calm" for all of its citizens.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel's strikes had "set Hamas back many years" – which some Israeli news commentators took as a possible prelude to a ceasefire within days when he could claim victory.

A Palestinian boy who was wounded in Israeli airstrikes, lies in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, 18 May 2021. EPA
A Palestinian boy who was wounded in Israeli air strikes, in Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, May 18, 2021. EPA

Updated: May 19, 2021 01:14 PM

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