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Israel strikes kill 42 in Gaza as UN Security Council meets

Palestinian FM accuses Israel of 'war crimes'

By AFP - May 17,2021 - Last updated at May 17,2021

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on Sunday, during massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave (AFP photo)

GAZA — Israeli strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily toll yet in the deadly Israeli aggression on the coastal enclave, as the UN Security Council met amid global alarm at the escalating conflict.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki on Sunday accused Israel of "war crimes" in its nearly week-long offensive as he urged international pressure at a UN Security Council session.

"Some may not want to use these words — war crimes and crimes against humanity — but they know they are true," Maliki told the virtual session on the crisis.

He renewed the charge — angrily denounced by Israel — that Israel is pursuing a policy of "apartheid" against the Palestinians.

"Act now to end the aggression. Act now so freedom can prevail — not apartheid," he told the Security Council.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pleaded for an immediate end to the bloody violence, warning that the fighting could plunge the region into an "uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis".

“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” Guterres said as he opened a Security Council session delayed by Israel’s ally the United States.

Guterres called the violence “utterly appalling”.

The heaviest fire in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has killed 192 in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza since Monday along with 10 in Israel, according to authorities on either side.

Israel said on Sunday morning its “continuing wave of strikes” had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across Gaza, where the destruction of a building housing news media organisations sparked an international outcry.

Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in a televised address said: “We will continue to act as long as it is necessary to restore calm and security for you citizens of Israel. It will take time.”

In Gaza, the death toll kept rising as emergency teams worked to extract bodies from vast piles of smoking rubble, as the bereaved wailed in grief.

“We were sleeping and then all of a sudden there were rockets raining down on us,” said Lamia Al Koulak, 43, who lost siblings and their children in the dawn bombardment.

“The children were screaming. For half an hour we were bombarded without previous warning. We came out to find the building next door flattened. All the people under the rubble were simple people.”

 

‘Hatred and revenge’ 

 

Israel’s occupation army said Sunday that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip towards Israel, the highest rate ever recorded.

Around 450 fell within the Gaza Strip, while the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted over 1,000, the army claimed.

Rockets have hit a number of Israeli residential districts and wounded over 280 people.

At least 58 children have died in Gaza, local health authorities said, more than 1,200 people have been wounded, and entire buildings and city blocks reduced to rubble.

Pope Francis warned of a descent “into a spiral of death and destruction”.

“Where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?” he asked.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that children were dying on both sides in “non-stop airstrikes in densely populated Gaza and rockets reaching big cities in Israel”.

 

Media offices destroyed 

 

The conflict has also sparked inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank, where 19 Palestinians have been killed since Monday.

The Israeli army said it had targeted the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including a vast tunnel system, weapons factories and storage sites.

Israeli air strikes also hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said, releasing footage of plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.

Balls of flame and a cloud of debris shot into the sky Saturday afternoon as Israel’s air force flattened the 13-floor Gaza building housing Al Jazeera and AP news agency, after giving just an hour to evacuate.

Netanyahu on Sunday defended the strike, alleging the building also hosted a Palestinian “terrorist” intelligence office.

“So it is a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu told CBS News. “I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries, in fact, no deaths.”

But Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid Al Omari, told AFP it was “clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth.”

 

‘It was hell’ 

 

China on Sunday accused the US of blocking a UN Security Council statement on the violence.

“Simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi, whose country holds the Council’s rotating presidency, told a virtual session.

“We call upon the United States to shoulder its due responsibilities.”

The United States, Israel’s main ally, delayed the Council session last week, and has shown little enthusiasm for a statement.

President Joe Biden’s administration says it is working behind the scenes and that a Security Council statement could backfire.

In public remarks, the Biden administration has steadfastly backed Israel’s right to self-defence, while urging de-escalation.

The conflict was sparked by clashes between riot police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, fuelled by outrage over Israeli police actions at the flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque and planned Israeli expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of the city’s Israeli-occupied east.

A “vehicle-ramming attack” Sunday in Sheikh Jarrah injured several people, including six police officers, police said.

The assailant was “shot by officers”, the police added without giving details on his condition.

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