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Gaza reels under Israeli strikes as violence enters second week

Dozens of Israeli strikes targetted crowded Palestinian coastal strip Monday

SAMAA | - Posted: May 17, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 weeks ago
SAMAA |
Posted: May 17, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 weeks ago

Photo: AFP

Gaza residents cowered indoors Monday as Israeli jets pounded the enclave and the violence that has killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, entered a second week.

Before dawn, within just a few minutes, dozens of Israeli strikes bombarded the crowded Palestinian coastal strip controlled by Islamist group Hamas.

Flames lit up the sky as intense explosions shook Gaza City, sparking widespread power cuts and damaging hundreds of buildings, local authorities said.

Some 3,200 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel since the conflict escalated on May 10 in the heaviest exchange of fire in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, an AFP reporter in Gaza saw huge plumes of grey smoke billow from a mattress factory, as civil defence members aimed high-pressure water hoses at the blaze.

Later in the day, dust clouds rose near Gaza’s Mediterranean port from further explosions, with Israel’s army confirming it had targeted “a Hamas submergible naval weapon”.

West Gaza resident Mahdi Abed Rabbo, 39, expressed “horror and fear” at the intensity of the onslaught, saying: “There have never been strikes of this magnitude.”

Another Gaza resident, Mani Qazaat, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should realise we’re civilians, not fighters”.

“I felt like I was dying,” he said about enduring a heavy aerial bombardment.

Thousands rendered homeless

Israel’s army said Monday it had hit the homes of nine “high-ranking” Hamas commanders, a day after bombing the house of Yahya Sinwar, head of the group’s political wing.

It gave no details of any casualties.

An Islamic Jihad commander was also killed Monday, a source within the group and the Israeli army said.

Fighter jets also hit what the Israeli army calls the “Metro,” its term for Hamas’ underground tunnels, which Israel has previously acknowledged runs in part through civilian areas.

The renewed strikes come a day after 42 Palestinians in Gaza — including at least eight children and two doctors, according to the health ministry — were killed in the worst daily death toll in the enclave since the bombardments began.

In total, 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 59 children, and more than 1,300 wounded since Israel launched its air campaign against Hamas after the group fired rockets, according to the authorities there.

Israel says 10 people, including one child, have been killed and more than 309 wounded by rocket fire that has been the most intense to ever rain down on the Jewish state.

Islamic Jihad said it fired more rockets towards Tel Aviv, and air raids sirens wailed across Israel again on Monday, especially near the Gaza border

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel’s campaign would “take time” to finish.

Israeli bombardment of Gaza has displaced 38,000 people and made 2,500 homeless, the United Nations says.

It has also battered crucial infrastructure, with the electricity authority Monday warning it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.

On Saturday, Israel gave journalists from Al Jazeera and AP news agency an hour to evacuate their offices before launching air strikes, turning their tower block into a pile of smoking rubble.

Netanyahu on Sunday said the building also hosted a Palestinian “terrorist” intelligence office and claimed it was a “perfectly legitimate target”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Monday he had requested “details” and a “justification” for the strike.

‘Uncontainable crisis’

The violence between Hamas and Israel is the worst since 2014, when Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip with the stated aim of ending rocket fire and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.

The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Opening a session of the UN Security Council on the renewed violence on Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the fighting “utterly appalling”.

But the UN talks, already delayed by Israel’s ally the United States, resulted in little action, with Washington opposing a resolution.

President Joe Biden’s administration says it is working behind the scenes, and that a Security Council statement could backfire.

US envoy for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr was in Ramallah on Monday and met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, who urged Washington to act against “Israel’s aggression,” the official Wafa news agency reported.

Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinians since May 10.

A 56-year-old Israeli man who was beaten by Arab suspects in the city of Lod last week died in hospital on Monday, police said.

Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound — one of Islam’s holiest sites — on May 7 after Israeli forces moved in on worshippers.

This followed a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The Israeli police said a car-ramming attack in Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday wounded seven police officers, and that Israeli forces had killed the attacker.

Police also arrested several people amid clashes elsewhere in east Jerusalem overnight.

Guterres warned that the fighting could “unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and …. further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole”.

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