June 20, 2021

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No sign of Israel, Gaza violence abating amid calls for end to bloodshed – NBC News

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The Israeli military continued to pound the Gaza strip early Monday, a day after dozens of Palestinians were killed in Israeli air raids and amid growing international calls for an end to the bloodshed.

Hamas also pressed on launching rockets at southern Israeli cities in the early hours.

The Israeli military said 54 fighter jets had struck underground tunnels used by Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, hitting what it described as 35 terror targets and roughly 9 miles of tunnels.

Three Palestinians were killed a day after 42 Palestinians died in air raids on Sunday — the deadliest day yet in the escalating violence between Israel and the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza.

May 16, 202101:51

The Gaza Health ministry has put the death toll in the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians at 200, including 59 children and 35 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities have said. According to local officials, 97 multi-story apartment blocks and residential buildings have been destroyed since last Monday.

Penned in by a strict blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, Palestinian civilians are trapped in densely populated Gaza with no bomb shelters and nowhere to go to protect themselves during bombings from raids.

The Israeli military and the Islamic Jihad militant group on Monday confirmed that a top commander of the Iran-backed militants had been killed in an airstrike.

The killing of Hasam Abu Harbid, commander of the northern division of the group, could further escalate tensions between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants, a smaller group than the ruling Hamas.

The Israeli military also said it had targeted the operators of a suspected Hamas naval weapon.

Meanwhile, Israeli police said rockets had struck the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashdod, where a number of people were being treated for minor injures.

Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said according to initial reports a rocket had struck a building in Ashdod causing three people to sustain minor injuries from broken glass and an additional five to suffer from stress symptoms.

Rescuers carry Suzy Eshkuntana, 6, as they pull her from the rubble of a building at the site of Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City, on Sunday.Mohammed Salem / Reuters

So far more than 3,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza strip at Israeli territory. The Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted approximately 90 percent of the rockets, the Israeli military said.

Over the weekend, the escalating violence prompted United Nations Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers to hold emergency meetings with representatives calling for an end to the civilian bloodshed.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the violence as “appalling” and called on the fighting to “stop immediately.”

China, meanwhile, has accused the U.S. of blocking the Security Council from issuing a joint statement on the escalating violence in the region.

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“Regrettably, simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the virtual meeting on Sunday.

“We call upon the U.S. to shoulder its due responsibilities, take a just position and together with most of the international community support the Security Council in easing the situation, rebuilding trust and advancing political settlement.”

United States Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council meeting that the U.S. had been working “tirelessly” to try to bring an end to the conflict.

“The United States has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a ceasefire,” she said.

A member of Sror family inspect the rocket damage to their apartment in Petah Tikva, Israel, on Thursday.Oded Balilty / AP

Pressure is mounting on the U.S., Israel’s most important and powerful ally, for more action on the crisis. U.S. Department of State envoy Hady Amr has been dispatched to the region for de-escalation talks, while President Joe Biden has also reaffirmed the U.S.’ staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza.

In the U.S., Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., led a group of 29 senators calling for an immediate ceasefire agreement to prevent further loss of life. Last week, a handful of progressive Democrats criticized the administration’s handling of the crisis and called on it to elevate support for the Palestinian cause from the fringes to the mainstream.

Press freedom advocates have condemned an Israeli airstrike Saturday that hit a Gaza building that housed offices of international media, disrupting coverage of the conflict. Israel’s military defended targeting the tower, saying Hamas had a military intelligence office in the building and used journalists as human shields, but did not provide evidence for its claims.

Regardless of pressure on Israel, or indeed the United States, a ceasefire currently feels a ways off.

Israeli security forces inspect a site in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon following a rocket attack fired from the Gaza Strip, on Sunday. Jack Guez / AFP – Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel planned to continue its military operation against Hamas “at full force” despite any “international pressures.”

Egypt’s state news agency reported Sunday that the country had opened the Rafah border crossing into Gaza so that the wounded could be evacuated. Egyptian aid was also on its way to the enclave, it reported.

The land, air and sea blockade of Gaza, which Hamas seized control of from the forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007. The blockade and international isolation has had a devastating impact on Gaza’s civilians and sent poverty and unemployment skyrocketing.

Charlene Gubash contributed.

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