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Israeli Airstrike on Gaza Kills 33

By VOA News May 16, 2021

Israeli airstrikes Sunday on Gaza City killed at least 33 people, including eight children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. It was the deadliest attack since the current round of fighting broke out last week between Israel and Hamas.

Early Sunday, Israel bombed the house of Yehya Al-Sinwar, the top Hamas Leader in Gaza, on the seventh straight day of hostilities. It was not immediately clear if Sinwar was home. An Associated Press report said he was "likely in hiding along with the rest of the group's upper echelon."

Israel's air and artillery assaults against Palestinian militants will "continue as long as needed," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday.

"You cannot hide — not above ground, and not underground. Nobody is immune," he said, speaking to the leaders of Hamas in Gaza, and he thanked U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders for their support.

Biden called Netanyahu on Saturday and said he condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and reaffirmed his support for Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas and other terrorist groups. The U.S. leader also expressed concern for the safety of journalists and the need to ensure their protection, according to a White House readout of the call.

Biden also spoke by phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their first conversation since Biden assumed the U.S. presidency in January.

He updated Abbas on U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the ongoing conflict, stressing that Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel. Biden also underscored his commitment to a "negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the White House said.

Mediation efforts

Hady Amr, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, is in Israel and is set to meet with Israeli leaders Sunday, then with Palestinian officials in the West Bank to find a "sustainable calm," the State Department said.

Also Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is addressing the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation.

"The Secretary-General is dismayed by the increasing number of civilian casualties, including the death of 10 members of the same family, including children, as a result of an Israeli airstrike last night in the al-Shati camp in Gaza, purportedly aimed at a Hamas leader," his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said in the statement.

"The Secretary-General reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs," he said.

The steady stream of attacks has prevented humanitarian organizations from providing aid to those who need it. Robert Mardini, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement Sunday, "We call on all parties involved to proactively protect civilians, de-escalate and allow us to help people. It is time for us to step up our response substantially."

"Actors on the ground must stop this cycle of violence, Mardini said. "The rules are crystal clear: Civilians must be protected at all times. Sadly, that is not the case today."

European Union foreign ministers will have a videoconference Tuesday about the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. Josep Borrell, EU's foreign policy chief, said on Twitter on Sunday that the ministers will "discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence."

Neither Israel nor Hamas indicated that an end to the worst violence between Israel and Palestinian militants since 2014 was in sight. It began Monday, sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.

Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday the fighting was primarily about Jerusalem.

"The Zionists thought ... they could demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque. They thought they could displace our people in Sheikh Jarrah," Haniyeh said, according to the Associated Press.

"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."

On Saturday, Israel expanded its assault against the Hamas leadership, striking the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a leader in the political branch. There were no reports of casualties. Dozens of Hamas military leaders, including senior commanders, as well as fighters, have been killed, Israel says. Hamas admits some commanders have been killed but says the toll is far lower.

Israeli airstrikes also destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City where the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera are based.

A 12-story building that housed apartments and other offices in addition to the media organizations was reduced to rubble Saturday by Israeli missiles after the building's owner received a warning by telephone from the Israeli military one hour before the attack.

AP staffers and other building occupants evacuated the building immediately, but Al-Jazeera continued to broadcast the airstrikes as the building collapsed.

"Al-Jazeera will not be silenced," an on-air anchorperson said. "We can guarantee you that right now."

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement the news organization was "shocked and horrified" by Israel's attack on the building, while noting it had received a warning from Israel.

"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today," Pruitt warned.

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Pruitt and "offered his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world and noted the indispensability of their reporting in conflict zones," according to spokesperson Ned Price. "He expressed relief that the Associated Press team on the ground in Gaza remains safe."

The Israeli military said, without evidence, that it destroyed the building because intelligence operatives within the Islamist militant group, Hamas, were using media offices as "human shields."

"AP's bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building," the news organization responded. "We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk."

Ongoing strikes

Since the fighting began Monday, more than 180 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 47 children and 22 women, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. At least eight Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a 6-year-old child.

Egypt sent 10 ambulances into Gaza on Saturday to evacuate some of the nearly 1,100 Palestinians injured in the fighting. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is the only border opening not controlled by Israel.

Since Monday, Hamas and its allies have launched about 2,300 rockets from Gaza toward Israel, Reuters reported, quoting the Israeli military, which said about 1,000 rockets were intercepted and about 380 fell into the Gaza Strip.

Israel, meanwhile, said it has launched more than 1,000 air and artillery strikes into Gaza, Reuters said.

Israel has faced international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza.

The recent violence is the biggest battle between the Palestinian militant group and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza. It was sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.

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