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Israel, Hamas Promise More Rockets as Violence Enters 2nd Week

By VOA News May 17, 2021

Israel pummeled GazaCitywith airstrikes Monday, killing a senior Palestinian militant commander, and Palestinian militant groups renewed rocket attacks on Israel as violence in the region entered its second week.

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.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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. Spokesman Abu Ubaida said, "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," 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.

When asked by reporters at the White House about the violence, U.S. President Joe Biden said he planned to speak with Netanyahu later on Monday.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken 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.

Blinken said Monday the U.S. 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.

The U.S. secretary of state told reporters in Copenhagen, where he is on a diplomatic tour of Nordic countries, "Palestinians and Israelis, like people everywhere, have the right to live in safety and security. This is not an Israeli privilege, Palestinian privilege. It's a human right. ... So, we've been working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring an end to the conflict."

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.

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 (OIC) 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 Israelicivilian areas. One hit a synagogue in Ashkelon, a southern city, hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. No injuries were reported.

In a televised address flanked by his defense minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity, Netanyahu told the Jewish state Sunday that the attacks were continuing at "full force" and will "take time."

The Israeli prime minister defended the destruction Saturday of a 12-story building in Gaza City where The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera news organizations were based, as well as apartments and other offices.

The building's owner received a warning by telephone from the Israeli military an hour before the attack, and AP staffers and other building occupants evacuated the building immediately. Netanyahu said no one was injured in the attack. Al-Jazeera continued to broadcast the airstrikes as the building collapsed.

The Israeli leader said the building, in addition to housing the media offices, was home to the "intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization."

"It is a perfectly legitimate target," he contended.

Sally Buzbee, AP's executive editor, called Sunday for an independent investigation of the airstrike.

She said the AP offices had been in that building for years and there had never been any indication that Hamas might be there.

"We are in a conflict situation," Buzbee said. "We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence. We don't know what that evidence is."

Separately, hundreds of people took to the streets Sunday in Lebanon to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

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.

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.

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

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