Israel, Palestinian Militants Carry Out Cross-Border Attacks
By VOA News May 18, 2021
Israel carried out airstrikes early Tuesday in the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel, continuing a wave of violence between the two sides that has stretched on for more than a week.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the latest attacks. The Israeli strikes were again focused on Gaza City, while militant rocket fire set off sirens in southern Israel.
The fighting has brought statements of concern from the international community and diplomatic efforts to halt the violence.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is holding talks Tuesday with EU foreign ministers to discuss how to best support de-escalating the conflict.
U.S. officials have spoken about efforts to work behind the scenes to calm the situation, including coordinating with other countries in the region.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, "We want to deescalate as quickly as possible," and that actions would be required from both Israel and Hamas 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.
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.
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.
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, which has been key in ending previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she spoke Monday with Netanyahu and expressed her support for Israel's right to self-defense.
The Israeli military said Monday 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.
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.
"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," spokesman Abu Ubaida said, according to Reuters.
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.
In further violence, Israel's military said six rockets were launched Monday from Lebanon but fell short of crossing the border into Israel. The situation in the area is calm, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said on Twitter. It said it was coordinating with the Lebanese Armed Forces to increase patrols in the area.
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 and the Arab League.
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.
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