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Israeli-Palestinian Cross-Border Attacks Continue as Diplomatic Efforts Intensify

By VOA News May 18, 2021

Israel launched more airstrikes Tuesday on the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel, killing two Thai workers in a packaging plant and wounding seven more people in a continuing wave of violence that has stretched for more than a week.

Since the fighting began on May 10, more than 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.

An Israeli attack leveled a six-story building that housed bookstores and educational centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges, leaving behind a massive mound of concrete slabs. A jumble of desks, office chairs, books and computer wires could be seen in the debris as the building's residents searched for their belongings.

Israel warned them ahead of time of its impending attack, forcing them to flee into the predawn darkness. There were no reports of casualties.

The United Nations said it has been "actively involved" in mediation efforts to try to end the violence. In the meantime, the U.N. said it was able to send dozens of fuel trucks but no other assistance from its relief agency into Gaza.

The world body voiced concern about Israeli strikes hitting civilian infrastructure in Gaza, along with the central COVID-19 testing lab and other health facilities.

US calls for de-escalation

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, "We want to de-escalate as quickly as possible," but that both Israel and Hamas would have to act to end the violence.

"The most effective way we feel we can do that is through quiet and intensive diplomacy, and that is what our focus is on at this point in time," Psaki said.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a video statement, "The fighting will not cease until we bring total and long-term quiet." He blamed Hamas for the worst escalation in Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014.

Hamas began firing rockets eight days ago in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel's 21% Arab minority staged a general strike on Tuesday in solidarity with the Hamas militants.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Reykjavik, where he is on a diplomatic mission, that Israel has given the United States information about its bombing last Saturday of a Gaza building housing The Associated Press and other media outlets. Israel said it targeted the building because Hamas also conducted operations there.

Blinken declined to characterize the material Israel provided the U.S., saying "that's not something I can comment on."

In a phone call Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated support for Israel to "defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks," while also encouraging Israel to "ensure the protection of innocent civilians."

"The president expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," a White House statement said.



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