Sunday, May 16, 2021 8:34 am
Ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, retaliatory airstrikes by the Israeli army and confrontations in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Arab-majority areas in Israel marked a region inflamed with violence unlikely to subside anytime soon.
Saturday marked Nakba Day, referring to the Palestinian “catastrophe,” which remembers the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Rockets fired by militant Palestinians continued to rain on Israeli cities: Warning sirens sounded in the desert city of Beersheba in southern Israel and in border areas near Gaza, the Israeli army said.
Alarms also went off several times in Tel Aviv, where explosions could be heard in the sky and in the south of the city.
Another rocket alarm was triggered in the Israeli coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv late Saturday.
At least one person was killed in a rocket attack on the greater Tel Aviv area on Saturday.
A man, about 50 years old, in the Ramat Gan suburb had suffered fatal injuries, according to paramedics.
The Israeli army attacked further targets on Palestinian territory, including rocket launchers and two combat units belonging to the Hamas movement.
The air force destroyed a high-rise in the Gaza Strip that was housing the offices of several media organisations, the military said.
The military said the building also contained “military assets” belonging to the Hamas movement, adding it had warned civilians ahead of the strike and left them time to evacuate.
“This is an incredibly disturbing development.
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” Associated Press (AP) chief Gary Pruitt said in New York.
The news agency had been informed in advance of the airstrike on the high-rise, he said.
A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were pulled to safety in time, he added.
Pruitt said he was “shocked and horrified” that the Israeli military destroyed a building with media offices.
He said the world would now know less about what is happening in Gaza.
Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera said it too had its office in the high-rise.
The channel quoted its correspondent Youmna al-Sayed as saying that the army had given the owner of the high-rise one hour to evacuate.
The owner had unsuccessfully asked for more time, it said.
“No place in Gaza now seems safe,” al-Sayed said.
“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
After the attack – the fifth high-rise destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the current conflict – a spokesperson for Hamas said Tel Aviv should prepare for an “answer that will shake the earth.”
The Israeli army tweeted on Saturday that the house of Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, had been attacked.
The house served as “terror infrastructure,” the army said, releasing a video of the attack.
According to Palestinian sources, however, al-Hayya was not in the house at the time of the attack.
Separately, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Saturday that a house had been hit in the Shati refugee camp in western Gaza.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 10 members of a Palestinian family were killed, including eight children.
Civilians were also killed in Beit Lahi in the north of Gaza and in other locations, Wafa reported.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said they were investigating the reports.
According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, about 140 Palestinians have been killed and 1,000 injured since fighting escalated on Monday.
According to the Magen David Adom rescue service, 10 people were killed and 636 injured in Israel as a result of the rocket fire over the past few days.
Palestinian militants have been continuously firing rockets at Israel since Monday.
More than 2,300 have been fired, according to Israel’s army, although about 20 per cent go down over Gaza without reaching Israeli territory.
Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery shelling, striking more than 650 targets, according to an officer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about the Gaza conflict, the second official contact since it began.
“The president reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” the White House said in a statement after the call.
A separate White House statement on a phone call with Mahmoud Abbas said Biden briefed the Palestinian Authority president on U.S. diplomatic engagement in the ongoing conflict.
The U.S. president stressed his commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best way to achieve a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell meanwhile called for respect for international law.
He condemned Hamas and other groups that attacked civilian targets in Israel with rockets.
Israel had the right to protect its population from these attacks, but had to act appropriately and avoid civilian casualties.
Civil unrest has also been mounting between in Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations, with protests and riots reported.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least nine people died in clashes in the West Bank and 21 were severely injured.
The Israeli army initially did not comment on the report.
There was also concern about several incidents near the Lebanese border, where two Lebanese protesters were reportedly killed.
The conflict first came to a head during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes at a Jerusalem holy site as well as over the forced evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (dpa/NAN)