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Israel’s War On Hamas Rages On In Gaza


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli warplanes unleashed a new series of heavy airstrikes at several locations in Gaza City early Monday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled the fourth war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers would rage on.

Explosions rocked the city from north to south for 10 minutes in an attack that was heavier, on a wider area and lasted longer than a series of air raids 24 hours earlier in which 42 Palestinians were killed — the deadliest single attack in the latest round of violence between Israel and the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza. The earlier Israeli airstrikes flattened three buildings.

The Israeli military said it attacked the homes of nine Hamas commanders across Gaza. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and in the predawn darkness there was little information on the extent of damage inflicted early Monday.

Local media reports said the main coastal road west of the city, security compounds and open spaces were hit in the latest raids. The power distribution company said airstrikes damaged a line feeding electricity from the only power plant to large parts of southern Gaza City.

In a televised address on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel’s attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time.“ Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group, he said, flanked by his defense minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.

Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One slammed into a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.

In the Israeli air assault early Sunday, families were buried under piles of cement rubble and twisted rebar. A yellow canary lay crushed on the ground. Shards of glass and debris covered streets blocks away from the major downtown thoroughfare where the three buildings were hit over the course of five minutes around 1 a.m.

The hostilities have repeatedly escalated over the past week, marking the worst fighting in the territory that is home to 2 million Palestinians since Israel and Hamas’ devastating 2014 war.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war.”

Rescuers furiously dug through the rubble using excavators and bulldozers amid clouds of heavy dust. One shouted, “Can you hear me?” into a hole. Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out. The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 people wounded.

Haya Abdelal, 21, who lives in a building next to one that was destroyed, said she was sleeping when the airstrikes sent her fleeing into the street. She accused Israel of not giving its usual warning to residents to leave before launching such an attack.

“We are tired,” she said, “We need a truce. We can’t bear it anymore.”

The Israeli army spokesperson’s office said the strike targeted Hamas “underground military infrastructure.”

As a result of the strike, “the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses’ foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties,” it said.

Among those reported killed was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, the head of the internal medicine department at Shifa Hospital and a senior member of the hospital’s coronavirus management committee. Two of Abu Al-Ouf’s teenage children and two other family members were also buried under the rubble.

The death of the 51-year-old physician “was a huge loss at a very sensitive time,” said Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa.

Gaza’s health care system, already gutted by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces, had been struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections even before the latest conflict.

Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

A picture taken from Yad Mordecahi in southern Israel shows a thick column of smoke billowing in the Gaza Strip following Isr



A picture taken from Yad Mordecahi in southern Israel shows a thick column of smoke billowing in the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes on May 17, 2021.

Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP office on Saturday.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.

“It’s a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked if he had provided any evidence of Hamas’ presence in the building in a call Saturday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said: “We pass it through our intelligence people.”

Buzbee called for any such evidence to be laid out. “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.”

Meanwhile, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court on Sunday to investigate Israel’s bombing of the AP building and others housing media organizations as a possible war crime.

The Paris-based group said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations have been destroyed over the past six days. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public.”

The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. The news agency’s cameras, operating from its top floor office and roof terrace, offered 24-hour live shots as militant rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday — an independent investigation,” Buzbee said.

The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinians clashed with police in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focus of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a hilltop compound revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in some of the 3,100 rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed in the fighting. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”

The assault has displaced some 34,000 Palestinians from their homes, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where eight foreign ministers spoke about the conflict.

Efforts by China, Norway and Tunisia to get the U.N. body to issue a statement, including a call for the cessation of hostilities, have been blocked by the United States, which, according to diplomats, is concerned it could interfere with diplomatic efforts to stop the violence.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki urged the Security Council to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’ “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks.”

The turmoil has also fueled protests in the occupied West Bank and stoked violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.

On Sunday, a driver rammed into an Israeli checkpoint in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families have been threatened with eviction , injuring six officers before police shot and killed the attacker, Israeli police said.

The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Europe and the United States.

Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators work to end the fighting and stave off an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.

The Israeli military said it destroyed the home Sunday of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.

Nessman reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo, Joseph Krauss and Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem, Edie Lederer at the United Nations and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.





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Biden Administration Announces Restoration Of Relations With Palestinians



Arab League

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a reversal of the Trump administration’s cutoff and a key element of its new support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills made the announcement of Biden’s approach to a high-level virtual Security Council meeting, saying the new U.S. administration believes this “remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state while upholding the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security.”

President Donald Trump’s administration provided unprecedented support to Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, slashing financial assistance for the Palestinians and reversing course on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state. Israel has built a far-flung network of settlements that house nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem since their capture in 1967.

The peace plan unveiled by Trump a year ago envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel, siding with Israel on key contentious issues including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements. It was vehemently rejected by the Palestinians.

Mills made clear the Biden administration’s more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Under the new administration, the policy of the United States will be to support a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” he said.

Mills said peace can’t be imposed on either side and stressed that progress and an ultimate solution require the participation and agreement of Israelis and Palestinians.

“In order to advance these objectives, the Biden administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis,” he said.

“This will involve renewing U.S. relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people,” Mills said.

“President Biden has been clear that he intends to restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development programs and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and to take steps to reopen diplomatic relations that were closed by the last U.S. administration,.” Mills said.

Trump cut off funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA, which was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. It provides education, health care, food and other assistance to some 5.5 million refugees and their descendants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The U.S. was UNRWA’s major donor and the loss of funds has created a financial crisis for the agency.

The Trump administration closed the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington in September 2018, effectively shutting down the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission to the United States.

Mills said the United States hopes to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment to reach a two-state solution.

To pursue this goal, Mills said, “the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinians to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.”

Israel has accused the Palestinians of inciting violence and has vehemently objected to the Palestinian Authority paying families of those imprisoned for attacking or killing Israelis.

Mills stressed that “the U.S. will maintain its steadfast support for Israel” ― opposing one-sided resolutions and other actions in international bodies that unfairly single out Israel and promoting Israel’s standing and participation at the U.N. and other international organizations.

The Biden administration welcomes the recent normalization of relations between Israel and a number of Arab nations and will urge other countries to establish ties, Mills said.

“Yet, we recognize that Arab-Israeli normalization is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” he said.

Mills stressed that the fraught state of Israeli-Palestinian politics, and the fact that trust between the two sides “is at a nadir,” don’t relieve U.N. member nations “of the responsibility of trying to preserve the viability of a two-state solution.”

Before Mills spoke, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki sharply criticized the Trump administration for using “the United States’ might and influence to support Israel’s unlawful efforts to entrench its occupation and control” and reiterated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ hopes “for the resumption of relations and positive engagement.”

“Now is the time to heal and repair the damage left by the previous U.S. administration,” he said. “We look forward to the reversal of the unlawful and hostile measures undertaken by the Trump administration and to working together for peace.”

Malki called for revival of the Quartet of Mideast mediators ― the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia ― and reiterated Abbas’ call for an international peace conference “that can signal a turning point in this conflict.” He also expressed hope that “the U.S. will play an important role in multilateral efforts for peace in the Middle East.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is convinced that the Quartet, working closely with both sides and Arab states, “can play a very, very effective role.”

In support of Abbas’ call for an international conference, Lavrov proposed holding a ministerial meeting this spring or summer with the Quartet and Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia to analyze the current situation and assist “in launching a dialogue” between Israeli’s and Palestinians.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said “Palestinians suffered from unprecedented pressure from the former U.S. administration” and said the organization’s 22 members look forward to Biden correcting Trump’s actions and working with international and regional parties to relaunch “a serious peace process.”

But Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the council that instead of focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should focus on Iran, which “does not try to hide its intention of destroying the world’s only Jewish state.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he suggested that the council discuss what he called “the real obstacles to peace: Palestinian incitement and culture of hate.”

Israel remains willing to make peace “when there is a willing partner,” Erdan said, accusing Abbas of inciting violence, and saying he should come to the negotiating table “without making outrageous demands and not call for another pointless international conference … (which) is just a distraction.”





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