Gaza
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike rocks Gaza City on 11 May. Ali HamadAPA images

UN head Antonio Guterres implored the warring parties in Israel and Gaza to halt the bloodshed, amid reports that Israeli officials rejected a ceasefire plan floated by Egypt.

“Out of respect for the spirit of Eid, I appeal for an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel,” the UN secretary-general said in a tweet on Thursday night.

The UN chief said: Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.

Guterres’ impassioned appeal came during the fourth consecutive night of missile and airstrikes between the Israeli military and Palestinian militias based in Gaza.

Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden voiced staunch support for Tel Aviv in a call with the Israeli PM, while Secretary of State Tony Blinken scolded a Palestinian leader for Hamas rocket fire as IDF warplanes hammer Gaza.

Biden reiterated Washington’s “unwavering” commitment to Israel’s security and its “legitimate right to defend itself” during a Wednesday phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, amid a new bout of fighting in the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

The president “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” also briefly mentioning the importance of “protecting civilians,” according to a White House readout of the call.

Netanyahu also acknowledged the conversation in a tweet, cheering Biden’s “backing of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Biden made little effort to urge restraint by Israeli forces during the call.

“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later,” Biden told ABC News after speaking with Netanyahu. “But Israel has the right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”

Biden made no mention of the dozens of Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes in recent days.

When a reporter asked if he was “concerned about the violence in the Middle East” and whether he had spoken to officials in the region, Biden said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that his “hope is that we’ll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later.”

Biden said his national security and defense staff have been in “constant contact” with Israel and other nations in the region.

In readout of Biden’s call with Netanyahu, the White House said Biden had “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups” and “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”

The U.S. has been engaging diplomatically with Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Palestinian officials, the statement said.

Despite talking to Netanyahu, Biden has not spoken to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the lack of contact by Biden on Thursday, saying Blinken had spoken to Abbas.

“The secretary of state is an incredibly high ranking member of the administration,” she said. “Fourth in line for the presidency, if I’m getting that correct. He’s very close to President Biden, and certainly that sends a clear message about the importance of communicating with all parties in the region.”

Omar condemned Biden

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) condemned Biden for making “no mention of the 13 innocent children killed in air strikes; no mention of the ongoing occupation of millions in an open air prison,” saying the president was “siding with an oppressive occupation.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who is Palestinian American, pointed to a letter from progressive group MoveOn urging Biden to call on Israel “to end the occupation, ease the blockade and put an immediate stop to forcing Palestinians out of their homes.”

Antony Blinken

Later on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken held a call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration oversees the occupied West Bank.

During the sit-down, the American diplomat condemned the rocket attacks and “emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions,” also expressing condolences for those killed in the violence.

Like Biden, Blinken declined to make any mention of deadly Israeli airstrikes – which have targeted several high-rise structures across Gaza, including apartment blocs and offices housing media organizations – instead placing all focus on Palestinian rockets.

Blinken told reporters Wednesday that he was deploying Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in the coming days. Amr was expected to arrive in the Middle East on Thursday.

“There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself,” Blinken told reporters.

But he also noted that Palestinian children have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, saying, “Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties.”

“The Palestinian people have the right to safety and security and we have to, I think, all work in that direction,” he added.

Israel and the U.S. both consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The U.S. government has voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine.

Muslim countries

Muslim countries have criticized Israel’s actions, but in largely perfunctory fashion so far, given that many of their leaders distrust Islamist radicalism. Many Arab countries have sidelined the Palestinian issue and are looking past Abbas to see, and try to manipulate, who will succeed him as head of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have called on the Biden administration to address the looming evictions, with 25 lawmakers signing a letter this week expressing “deep concern about Israel’s imminent plan to forcibly displace nearly 2,000 Palestinians” in two Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The letter said:

Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah are in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Addressed to Blinken, the letter goes on to note that some 5,000 homes in East Jerusalem were demolished by Israeli authorities between 1967 and 2017 – citing a report by the Land Research Center – while also calling attention to Tel Aviv’s ongoing military occupation of the greater West Bank, of which East Jerusalem is a part.

Biden himself has also come under pressure from House Democrats over his pronouncements on the fighting in Gaza, with New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasting an earlier statement backing Israel’s right to self-defense.

“Blanket statements like these w/ little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence – namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al-Aqsa – dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong,” she said.

Russia calls on Israel to ‘immediately’ end settlement of Palestinian territories and maintain peace at Jerusalem’s sacred sites

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday urged Israel and the Palestinians to halt fighting in a call with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the world needs to give Israel a “strong” lesson.

“Serious concern was expressed about the continuing clashes and the growing number of people killed and wounded,” the Kremlin said in a statement adding that Putin had “called on the parties to de-escalate tensions and peacefully resolve the emerging issues”

Moscow has urged the Israeli government to urgently put an end to violent clashes with Palestinians, as security forces crack down on unrest in East Jerusalem and are reportedly considering a full-scale ground operation in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held a call with Mousa Abu Marzuk, a senior representative of Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza. During the talks, Marzuk warned of a worsening humanitarian situation in Eastern Jerusalem, as well as reported shelling of residential areas in Gaza.

The foreign ministry in Moscow later issued a statement, which “emphasized the importance of putting an immediate end to the violence, as well as the inadmissibility of attacks on civilians, regardless of their nationality and religion.”

The diplomats added that this applied to both “strikes on civilian targets in Israeli and Palestinian territory.” Furthermore, they insisted that Israel must maintain “the status quo of Jerusalem’s sacred sites” and “immediately” stop all settlement activities in Palestinian areas.

Russia, along with the U.S., is one of only a handful of nations that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, Moscow maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv and has consistently opposed Israeli settlement in Eastern Jerusalem, which, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, Russia regards as the capital of the State of Palestine.

China

China, Norway and Tunisia have since issued a call on the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, to hold emergency talks to deal with the growing crisis.

EU

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrel, has also argued that “indiscriminate launching of rockets from Hamas and other groups towards Israeli civilians is unacceptable,” but said the country’s response must be “proportionate and with maximum restraint in the use of force.”

He added that proposed evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood were a “matter of serious concern” and “such actions are illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.”

Protests

Days of chaotic protests over looming evictions of Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem culminated on Monday, seeing security forces crack down on demonstrations, also storming the Al Aqsa mosque as worshippers gathered inside, prompting the first volley of rocket fire from Hamas that night.

Since then, more than 100 Palestinians have died in a string of IDF bombing raids across Gaza, among them 28 children, while at least six Israelis lost their lives in rocket blasts, including one IDF soldier and one child.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to make Hamas “pay a heavy price” and keep up the offensive on Thursday night, the bombing appears set to continue.

Sources cited by Al Arabiya said that an Egyptian delegation traveled to Tel Aviv to propose a “humanitarian truce,” but left the city after the plan was rejected by Israeli officials.

Though the IDF was preparing a potential ground invasion, it apparently stopped short of sending in troops on Thursday night. A military spokesperson later confirmed as much, saying that, for now, boots would not cross the border, and that ground forces would only take part in artillery shelling from within Israeli territory.

Palestinian militants have since launched about 2,000 rockets toward Israel, while Israel is carrying out multiple retaliatory strikes against the Hamas Islamist movement.

The Iron Dome air defense system had intercepted hundreds of missiles, according to the Israeli Military.

Six Israeli civilians and one military man have died since the beginning of the escalation of the conflict. According to the enclave’s health ministry, the number of Palestinians killed in three days increased to 83, and 487 people were reportedly injured.

Since the evening, according to media, at least six Israeli aircraft have conducted around 100 air raids on the northern part of Gaza.

Eyewitnesses and local media report power outages in the area of the ongoing military operation.

Prior to the current attack, the IDF bombed Palestinian government targets, Hamas’ central bank, a force that the Israeli military said belonged to Hamas’ navy unit, and the home of Iyad Tayeb, a top Hamas commander who supervised a number of battalions.

Several top leaders of Israel have repeatedly stated that the retaliation measures of the country were “just the beginning.”

In response, Palestinian armed groups have pledged to intensify the shelling of Israeli territory.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that some of the dead who arrived at Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were suspected to have been killed by nerve gas.

The ministry did not specify who the victims were, but sources told ABC News they were Hamas fighters who were in a military tunnel.

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group, confirmed seven militants had been killed, while Hamas said 13 of its militants had been killed, including a senior commander.

It is the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

Violence on the streets of Israel

Violence between Arabs and Jews has broken out on the streets of Israel. Authorities responded to “wide-scale riots” in various Israeli cities on Wednesday night, according to Israel Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfield. A dozen officers were injured while responding to the incidents and hundreds of people were arrested, Rosenfield said.

Authorities imposed a curfew in Lod, where buildings and cars were set ablaze on Wednesday night. A young Arab resident was shot and killed there on Monday night amid clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs, according to Rosenfield.

There were also several different instances of Arabs attacking Jews, Rosenfeld said. In Acre, rioters torched a famous Jewish-owned seafood restaurant.

An attack on an Arab man near Tel Aviv was televised live by Israel’s public broadcaster late Wednesday. The shocking footage shows a mob dragging the man out of his car and beating him until he lay motionless.

Israel’s prime minister condemned the rioting and violent clashes as “unacceptable.”

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.

“To the citizens of Israel I say that I do not care if your blood is boiling. You cannot take the law into your own hands,” he added. “You cannot grab an ordinary Arab citizen and try to lynch him — just as we cannot watch Arab citizens do this to Jewish citizens.”

3 U.S. airlines

The escalating violence in Israel has prompted at least three U.S. airlines – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines – to cancel all flights to and from the Middle Eastern country, telling ABC News they are monitoring the situation and will continue to reevaluate.

Hamas warned international airlines from flying to Israel, and said they will target airports.


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