Israeli PM vows to push on ‘forcefully’ with offensive as airstrikes hit home of Hamas leader


More airstrikes smashed into Gaza as Israel’s prime minister vowed to push on “forcefully” with a week-long offensive against Palestinian militants despite growing concern about civilian deaths and the targeting of a building that housed journalists.

At least 41 children are among more than 140 people killed in the Palestinian enclave, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, since hostilities erupted.

Many more have been wounded, including in the latest Israeli bombardments early on Sunday morning, according to Palestinian health officials.

Two children on the Israeli side have also been killed since Monday as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow militant group, fired some 2,300 rockets towards Israel – an unprecedented volume of strikes, launched indiscriminately.

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Building in Gaza collapses after airstrike

At the same time, violence has erupted between Jews and Palestinian Arabs living inside Israel, while anti-Israeli protests have flared across the occupied territories, including the West Bank, as well as in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

Diplomatic efforts are under way to try to end the gravest escalation in Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in years but without a breakthrough yet.

In other developments:

More on Gaza

  • The head of Hamas has warned Israel not to play with fire
  • The United Nations Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation today
  • US President Joe Biden has spoken again with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for the first time since the crisis began with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in separate phone calls
  • Israel struck the home of Yehya Al-Sinwar, who headed the political and military wings of Hamas in Gaza, early this morning, the group’s TV station said
  • Hamas fired rockets overnight at the Israeli commercial and tourism hub of Tel Aviv and towns in southern Israel in what it said was a reprisal for the destruction of a multi-storey building in Gaza, which housed a number of media organisations. Israel has said Hamas was also using the site
  • In the UK, nine police officers were injured and missiles were thrown amid efforts to disperse crowds outside the Israeli Embassy after thousands of people marched through London in solidarity with Palestinians on an annual day of mourning called Nakba. Similar protests also took place in other cities around the world
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli border police following violence in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod
Benjamin Netanyahu has said the ongoing campaign against Palestinian militants will continue with ‘force’

In a televised address late on Saturday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This past week, millions of Israelis were forced into bomb shelters as missiles rained down on our cities… Israel has responded forcefully to these attacks and we will continue to respond forcefully until the security of our people is reinstated and restored.”

He also vowed not to allow “pogroms against our own citizens” following clashes in mixed Arab-Jewish towns and cities.

“To tolerate this unacceptable vigilantism and violence is to pave a way to anarchy,” he added.

The conflict started in East Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah
The conflict started in East Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah

Hamas began its rocket assault on Israel last Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said late on Saturday that the underlying cause of the hostilities was Jerusalem.

“The Zionists thought… they could demolish Al-Aqsa mosque. They thought they could displace our people in Sheikh Jarrah,” said Haniyeh.

“I say to Netanyahu: do not play with fire,” he continued, amid cheers from the crowd. “The title of this battle today, the title of the war, and the title of the intifada, is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” using the Arabic word for “uprising”.

An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have fired around 2,300 rockets from Gaza over the past six days, the Israeli military said on Saturday.

It said about 1,000 were intercepted by missile defences and 380 fell into the Gaza Strip.

Israel has launched more than 1,000 air, artillery and tank strikes into the densely populated coastal strip, saying they were aimed at Hamas and other militant targets.

Yet on Saturday a five-month-old baby boy called Omar – found injured but alive under the rubble – was the sole survivor of one strike that left his mother, four siblings, aunt and four other infants dead.

Mohammed Hadid, the father, who was not with his family at the time, said: “The Israelis hit the house without any eviction, without any warning, without any calls, without anything. All the people are in the neighbourhood. And they are peaceful in their houses. They are all children.”

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The Israel Defence Forces were also facing heavy criticism over their decision to target the al Jalaa building in Gaza City that houses media organisations, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, even though they gave journalists a warning to evacuate.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement.

“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organisations in Gaza.”

Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a “war crime” aiming to “silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza”.

A total of 149 people, including 41 children and 23 women have been killed in Gaza since the unrest started, according to Palestinian health officials. A further 13 people have been killed in protests on the West Bank.

On the Israeli side, there have been at least nine deaths, including two children. The latest fatality happened on Saturday in a Hamas rocket attack in a suburb of Tel Aviv.

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