UN Security Council to discuss Gaza as Netanyahu vows offensive will go on

Palestinian Health Ministry estimates 55 children and 29 women among 192 dead

The war in Gaza and crisis in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories continued on Sunday after Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip demolished an apartment block killing at least 42 civilians, including a one-year-old baby and a three-year-old toddler.

The death toll was feared to rise as emergency services searched through rubble.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 192 Palestinian were killed including 58 children, 34 women, with the toll of wounded standing at 1,235 wounded over seven days of heavy bombing. The Israeli civilian death toll stood at 10 on Sunday, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.

Hamas fired over 3,000 rockets into Israel, eclipsing even the intense rocket fire seen in the bloody 50 day 2014 war in Gaza.

Israeli forces have attacked the densely populated Gaza Strip since early on Sunday, launching air strikes against 90 targets in 24 hours, according to a military spokesman.

But any hopes for de-escalation were quickly dashed after Israel's security cabinet said on Sunday afternoon that they were deferring to military planners on the next phase of the campaign. Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz told reporters, "I will complete the mission of destroying Hamas capabilities, including the tunnels," following PM Netanyahu''s warning that military operations would continue "with full force."

Hamas fired 120 rockets overnight, the Israeli military said, with many intercepted and around a dozen falling short and landing in Gaza, although their claims could not be verified.

The Israeli military also said that Hamas and other militant groups have fired more than 70 per cent of the entire volume of rockets fired in 2014.

The Israeli military said that air defences had intercepted 1,150 rockets so far.

The interception rate appeared to have significantly dropped since the start of the conflict, when Israel said 90 per cent were intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Israeli military said on Sunday it targeted the home of Gaza’s senior Hamas leader Yehiyeh Sinwar. His home is in the town of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The military said it also targeted the home of Mr Sinwar’s brother. It was not clear if the two shared a residence.

People walk past debris in a street at the site of Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City. Reuters
People walk past debris in a street at the site of Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City. Reuters

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged that 20 fighters have been killed since the fighting broke out on Monday, while Israel said the number was higher.

On Saturday morning, one 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 fathers.

On the same day, an Israeli air strike targeted the Al Galaa tower, the shared offices of Associated Press and Al Jazeera, part of a commercial and residential tower block which was given one hour to evacuate. 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 representative said on Saturday.

Mr Guterres reminded "all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs", the representative said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the military will continue to strike in Gaza as long as is deemed necessary, blaming Hamas for starting nearly a week of hostilities by firing rockets at Israel.

"The party that bears the guilt for this confrontation is not us, it's those attacking us," Mr 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."

Reports said journalists in the tower, which also had commercial offices, were given one hour to leave the building.

The Israeli military has in many cases called owners of large tower blocks in Gaza, giving them notice that their building will be destroyed in an air strike.

"Unlike Hamas, which deliberately intends to harm civilians while hiding behind civilians, we are doing everything, but everything, to avoid or limit as much as possible harming civilians and to directly strike terrorists instead," Mr Netanyahu said.

Al Jazeera English producer Linah Alsaafin said her colleagues were not allowed to remove their equipment from the building before it was destroyed.

"The owner of the building is telling the Israelis to give the media time to evacuate their equipment from the building," she wrote on Twitter. "The officer said no."

Video footage from near the office block showed it collapsing after a large explosion.

Later in the afternoon, the Israeli military issued a statement on the destruction of the building, saying it "contained military assets belonging to Hamas military intelligence", and that civilians were given time to get out.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden spoke to Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a diplomatic effort to end the conflict.

The US was criticised for not doing enough to stop the bloodshed after it had blocked a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Friday.

"The president reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. He condemned these indiscriminate attacks against towns and cities across Israel," the White House said in a statement regarding the call with Mr Netanyahu, echoing a long-standing US position against any attacks on its Israeli ally.

Mr Abbas reportedly told Mr Biden, in his first call with the president, that “security and stability will be achieved when the Israeli occupation ends”, adding that Palestinians are ready and willing to work toward peace with international mediators.

Mr Biden said that diplomatic efforts would continue with "partners in the region", and that "this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children".

On the media office bombing, Mr Biden expressed "concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection".

The current conflict has also resulted in mob violence in Israeli cities, with rival gangs of extremists attacking mosques and synagogues. In the occupied West Bank, rioting and alleged terror attacks has seen at least 19 Palestinians killed. On Sunday, a Palestinian was shot dead in Sheikh Jarrah, east Jerusalem, after allegedly ramming his car into Israeli police, injuring six.

In the city of Lod, which has been badly affected by community violence, the mayor said Israel was descending into civil war.

Updated: May 16, 2021 10:13 PM


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