Israel pummeled Gaza City with airstrikes Monday and Palestinian militant groups renewed rocket attacks on Israel as U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time since violence broke out a week ago.
“The president expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” a White House statement said.
Since the fighting began on May 10, at least 200 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 59 children and 35 women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 10 Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a 6-year-old child.
The Israeli military said it destroyed 15 kilometers of tunnels in Gaza used by Hamas, as well as a five-story building housing the Hamas-run Religious Affairs Ministry, and killed Islamic Jihad’s armed commander for north Gaza, Hussam Abu Harbeed.
In response, Islamic Jihad fired rockets at the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, and officials said seven people were injured.
Netanyahu said in an address Monday after meeting with top defense officials that Israel will “continue to strike terror targets” and will “continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
The armed wing of Hamas promised more rockets.
“The criminal Zionist enemy intensified its bombing of homes and residential apartments in the recent hours, and therefore, we warn the enemy that if it did not stop that immediately, we would resume rocketing Tel Aviv,” spokesman Abu Ubaida said, according to Reuters news agency.
Also Monday, an Israeli man died of his wounds after being attacked last week by a group of Arab citizens in the central city of Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab community that has become a flashpoint area during the latest fighting.
In further violence, Israel’s military said six rockets were launched Monday from Lebanon but fell short of crossing the border into Israel. The situation in the area is calm, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said on Twitter. It said it was coordinating with the Lebanese Armed Forces to increase patrols in the area.
When Biden spoke with Netanyahu Monday and expressed support for a cease-fire to end the violence, he also “reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks,” according to the White House.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday, discussed Washington’s efforts to bring an end to the violence, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Blinken told reporters Monday while visiting Copenhagen that the United States has been “working intensively behind the scenes” to try to bring an end to the violence, including phone calls Sunday with his counterparts in Egypt, Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and France.
He called on Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza to end rocket attacks against Israel immediately and said that while Israel has a right to defend itself, it has a burden to avoid civilian casualties.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he will have talks with Netanyahu in the coming days and called for a cease-fire “as soon as possible.” He added that France is supporting Egypt’s mediation in the conflict because of its influence over the militant group.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she spoke Monday with Netanyahu and expressed her support for Israel’s right to self-defense.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Biden is “writing history with his bloody hands” following reports that the administration is set to approve a $735 million weapons sale to Israel.
The United Nations said more than 38,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes and more than 2,500 people have been made homeless. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said those displaced have sought protection in 48 schools run by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. He said 41 of those facilities have been damaged.
Also Monday, U.N. General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said the 193-member body would meet Thursday to discuss the situation at the request of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
Monday’s violence followed comments Sunday by Netanyahu that he was not planning any “immediate” end to deadly airstrikes on Gaza.
He spoke the same day that Israeli jet fighters flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people, the deadliest single attack in the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas.
Early Sunday, Hamas launched rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli civilian areas. One hit a synagogue in Ashkelon, a southern city, hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. No injuries were reported.
The latest outbreak of fighting began last Monday after conflicts in east Jerusalem last month. Palestinian clashes with police erupted in response to Israeli police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Jewish settlers threatening to evict dozens of Palestinian families. A focal point of the unrest was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on a hilltop compound that is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Source: Voice of America