Israel’s assault on Gaza continues despite international ceasefire calls

Israeli warplanes struck multiple targets in Gaza overnight as Israel kept up its assault on Palestinian militants despite growing international calls for a ceasefire to end the nine-day conflict. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday the offensive against Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, “will continue as long as it takes in order to restore calm for all of Israel’s citizens”.

The Israeli military said 52 fighter jets dropped about 120 bombs in raids overnight which it said targeted tunnel infrastructure used by militants, which Israel dubs the “Gaza metro”.

Israeli strikes have killed 217 Palestinians, including 63 children, since May 10, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli army officials said 130 of the dead were Hamas combatants, and disputed — without evidence — Gazan estimates that nearly half of the dead were women and children.

Israel has reported that 12 Israelis have been killed by Hamas’s attacks, including two children. Two Thai workers were killed when rockets from Gaza struck southern Israel on Tuesday.

Hamas has fired more than 3,400 rockets into Israeli cities since the fighting began on May 10. 

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has forced tens of thousands of Palestinians in the walled-in strip to flee their homes, as houses, health facilities, schools and shops have been destroyed or damaged.

About 50,000 Palestinians have been forced to seek shelter in schools run by the UN’s refugee agency.

UN agencies said 156 buildings, comprising 672 housing and commercial units, had been destroyed in Gaza. Hundreds more houses have been severely damaged and rendered uninhabitable, it said.

Six hospitals and 11 primary healthcare centres have been also damaged, while another hospital was not functioning because of lack of electricity for the third successive day.

The UN and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said the strip’s only Covid-19 laboratory was no longer able to conduct tests because of an Israeli air strike near Gaza’s health ministry and a clinic.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that “given the impact on civilians lives and on civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian organisations and medical facilities, the incident raises serious concerns over a possible indiscriminate and disproportionate attack under international humanitarian law,” according to a UN situation report. 

Aid workers in the impoverished, densely populated strip of 2m people fear that the number of deaths will rise as rescue workers struggle to pull the dead and wounded from beneath mounds of rubble.

As the death and destruction has mounted, diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire have intensified. 

US president Joe Biden this week publicly backed international calls for a ceasefire after speaking with Netanyahu on Monday. The US president has faced rising criticism from American progressives, including within his own Democratic party, who want the administration to exert more pressure to stop the hostilities.

“The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” according to a White House readout of the call.

Biden also “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians”.

The US blocked a UN Security Council statement on Monday calling for de-escalation, cessation of violence and respect for international law, according to two UN diplomats.

EU foreign ministers also urged an end to the hostilities at an informal meeting on Tuesday.

Josep Borrell, the bloc’s policy chief, said all member states but Hungary supported the “general thrust” of a common statement that urged an immediate end to the violence and implementation of a ceasefire.

The unrest has spread to the occupied West Bank where on Tuesday Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians, according to health officials in the territory, including three in Ramallah where fresh protests erupted.

The Israeli military said its forces shot a Palestinian in Hebron, whom they said attacked soldiers with an explosive device and knife.

Israeli police said two security forces were shot in the leg during the protests in Ramallah, the first such incident in the West Bank for years. The city is the seat of Fatah, Hamas’ rival Palestinian faction.

The Israeli military has killed more than 20 Palestinians in the territory since protests broke out across the West Bank on Friday, Palestinian health officials said.

The latest crisis was triggered when police used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against Palestinians protesting against restrictions at the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. More than 600 Palestinians were wounded. The mosque is in a compound in Jerusalem known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, and is sacred to both religions.

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