GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, May 15, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Israeli fighter jets pounded the Gaza Strip overnight, killing 10 members of a single family, medics said Saturday, after a day of deadly violence rocked the West Bank and a US envoy arrived for talks.
US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was due to meet Israeli leaders in Jerusalem Saturday before heading to the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian officials.
He wants to encourage a “sustainable calm”, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.
Washington has been criticised for not doing more to end the intensifying violence after it blocked a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Friday.
Eleven Palestinians were killed in clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday and there were fears of worse violence Saturday as Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.
Despite intensifying diplomatic efforts to ease five days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, Israel’s air force struck several sites in the coastal enclave overnight, while rockets again tore towards Israel.
Ten members of a single family — eight children and two women — were killed when a three-storey building in Shati refugee camp collapsed following an Israel strike.
The overall death toll in Gaza since Monday now tops 130, more than 30 of them children. Around 950 people have been wounded.
Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Saturday to allow in 10 ambulances carrying seriously injured Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.
Israel, which is also trying to contain an outbreak of internal Jewish-Arab violence, is facing its bloodiest conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.
Its bombardment began on Monday after the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas fired rockets towards Jerusalem in response to a bloody Israeli police action at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem.
More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since then, killing nine people, including a child and a soldier. More than 560 people have been wounded.
Between 7 pm Friday and 7 am Saturday, some 200 rockets were fired at southern Israel, over 100 of which were intercepted by air defences, the Israeli military said.
Israel’s response has seen it hit nearly 800 targets, including a massive assault Friday on a Hamas tunnel network dug under civilian areas.
Tower blocks and other multi-storey buildings have been levelled.
Some 10,000 Palestinians have fled homes near the Israeli border for fear of a ground offensive, the United Nations said.
“They are sheltering in schools, mosques and other places during a global Covid-19 pandemic with limited access to water, food, hygiene and health services, said UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied territories, Lynn Hastings.
“All the children are afraid and we are afraid for the children,” said Kamal al-Haddad, who fled with his family to a UN-supported school in Gaza City.
Early Saturday, the Israeli army said it had hit a Hamas “operation office” near the centre of Gaza City, with additional overnight strikes targeting what the military called “underground launch sites”.
– West Bank unrest –
The West Bank saw fierce clashes on Friday, with the Palestinian health ministry saying 11 people were killed by Israeli fire.
A Palestinian security source said the fighting was the “most intense” since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.
Violence on Fridays in the West Bank has become a routine part of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the latest unrest was fuelled by developments in Jerusalem and Gaza.
“It would be shameful to remain quiet with what’s going on in Gaza,” said Oday Hassan, 21, who was protesting in the West Bank town of Al-Birah.
At the least one of the Palestinians killed was shot dead after attempting to stab a soldier north of Ramallah, said the Israeli army, which early Saturday reported a new attempted knife attack during “a violent riot” in Nablus.
In annexed east Jerusalem, overnight clashes hit Palestinian neighbourhoods across the city. In Shuafat, masked Palestinian protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas.
– Communal violence –
Within Israel, an unprecedented wave of mob violence has seen Arabs and Jews savagely beat each other, with synagogues set alight.
More than 750 people have been arrested this week, police said.
In one of the most shocking episodes, a far-right Jewish mob beat a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, leaving him with serious injuries.
Dozens of Arab Israelis were arrested in mixed Jewish-Arab towns overnight. In Jaffa, an Arab child was seriously wounded after a firebomb was thrown into his home, police said.
In the north, where Israel remains technically at war with neighbouring Lebanon and Syria, tensions were also rising.
The army said it “fired warning shots towards a number of rioters who crossed from Lebanon into Israeli territory” on Friday, forcing them back into Lebanon.
Israel’s arch-enemy, the pro-Iranian Shiite group Hezbollah, announced one of its members, 21-year-old Mohamad Kassem Tahan, was killed by the Israeli shots.
Three rockets were later launched at Israel from southern Syria, where Hezbollah is present, but there was no immediate confirmation of a link between the events.
– ‘Not over yet’ –
The UN said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the violence.
But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no indication that Israel was ready to ease its campaign.
“I said we’d deliver heavy blows to Hamas and other terror groups, and we’re doing that,” Netanyahu said.
“They’re paying and will continue to pay dearly for that. It’s not over yet.”
Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.
It has hit sites it describes as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders.