No respite in Gaza from Israeli strikes, as diplomatic efforts intensify

Published May 18, 2021, 12:39 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming hostilities between Israel and armed Palestinian groups that have left over 200 dead.

Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

Amid calls for an end to the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Monday Israel would “continue striking at the terrorist targets”.

Israel launched its air campaign on the Gaza Strip on May 10 after the enclave’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, fired rockets towards the Jewish state, an escalation sparked by unrest in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

In total 212 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 61 children, and more than 1,400 wounded — whilst in Israel, ten people have died, including one child, with hundreds injured, according to officials on both sides.

Tuesday’s emergency UNSC session — the fourth since the conflict escalated — was called after the United States, a key Israel ally, blocked the adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence for the third time in a week on Monday.

US President Joe Biden, having resisted joining other world leaders and much of his own Democratic party in calling for an immediate end to hostilities, told Netanyahu Monday night he backs a ceasefire, but stopped short of demanding a truce.

Israel continued its barrage of Gaza overnight, setting the dark sky ablaze over the crowded, coastal enclave as multiple strikes crashed into buildings in Gaza City shortly after midnight, AFP journalists said.

– ‘Intensive diplomacy’ –
In the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas urged Washington to act against “Israel’s aggression”, in a meeting with US envoy for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr, the official Wafa news agency reported.

Even as UNSC efforts talks have faltered and the US has been accused of obstructionism, mediation channels are being opened behind the scenes.

Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and the Egyptian government — a key intermediary — on Monday, saying that Washington was engaged in “quiet, intensive diplomacy”.

French and Egyptian presidents Emmanuel Macron and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are pushing for a ceasefire deal and aim to get the backing of Jordan. Another channel has been opened, via the UN, with the help of Qatar and Egypt.

European Union foreign ministers will also hold urgent talks Tuesday on the violence, announced by EU top diplomat Josep Borrell who has been conducting “intense” diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the fighting.

The conflict was sparked after 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 east Jerusalem.

Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 20 Palestinians since May 10.

Abbas’ Fatah party has called for a “day of anger” and a general strike on Tuesday, a call echoed in Israeli Arab towns and in “mixed” towns in Israel, where tension between Jews and Arabs remain high.