No respite in Gaza from Israeli strikes, as diplomatic efforts intensify
The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming Israeli air strikes that have killed more than 200 Palestinians.
A fireball accompanied by a plume of black smoke erupted over a Gaza building early Tuesday after the latest Israeli strike, an AFP journalist reported.
Despite growing calls for an end to the bombardment, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Monday Israel would "continue striking at the terrorist targets".
Israel launched its air campaign on the besieged Gaza strip on May 10, after the enclave's rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, fired rockets in response to police violence in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem.
In total 212 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 61 children, and more than 1,400 wounded - whilst in Israel, ten people have died, including one child, with hundreds injured, according to officials on both sides.
Tuesday's emergency UNSC session - the fourth since the conflict escalated - was called after the United States, a key Israel ally, blocked the adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence for the third time in a week on Monday.
US President Joe Biden, having resisted joining other world leaders and much of his own Democratic party in calling for an immediate end to hostilities, told Netanyahu Monday night he backs a ceasefire, but stopped short of demanding a truce.
Israel continued its barrage overnight, setting the night sky ablaze over the densely populated coastal enclave as multiple strikes crashed into buildings in Gaza City shortly after midnight, AFP journalists said.
The moment Israel bombs a house in Abasan al-Kabeera area in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip https://t.co/IdX3x5dKlf— لينة (@LinahAlsaafin) May 18, 2021
Hours before, strikes had knocked out the only Covid-19 testing laboratory in the strip and damaged the office of Qatar's Red Crescent.
The rate of positive coronavirus tests in Gaza has been among the highest in the world, at 28 percent.
Hospitals in the poverty-stricken territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients.
Gaza resident Roba Abu al-Awf, 20, was bracing for a rough night.
"We have nothing to do but sit at home," she said. "Death could come at any moment - the bombing is crazy and indiscriminate."
Israeli fire has cratered roads and battered crucial infrastructure, causing blackouts and leading the electricity authority Monday to warn it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.
The security crisis risks precipitating a humanitarian disaster, with the UN saying nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been displaced and another 2,500 have lost their homes in the bombardments.
Palestinian militants have fired around 3,350 rockets toward Israel, threatening more strikes on Tel Aviv if bombing of residential areas does not stop.
Israeli fighter jets also hit what the army calls the "Metro", its term for Hamas' underground tunnels.
Rockets were also volleyed toward Israel from within the territory of its northern neighbour Lebanon, where protests against the Jewish state's Gaza campaign have been held in the border area.
The Israeli army said the six rockets did not reach its territory.
In the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas urged Washington to act against "Israel's aggression", in a meeting with US envoy for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr, the official Wafa news agency reported.
Even as UNSC efforts talks have faltered and the US has been accused of obstructionism, mediation channels are being opened behind the scenes.
Biden's national security advisor Jake Sullivan said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and the Egyptian government - a key intermediary - on Monday, saying that Washington was engaged in "quiet, intensive diplomacy".
French and Egyptian presidents Emmanuel Macron and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are pushing for a ceasefire deal and aim to get the backing of Jordan. Another channel has been opened, via the UN, with the help of Qatar and Egypt.
European Union foreign ministers will also hold urgent talks Tuesday on the violence, announced by EU top diplomat Josep Borrell who has been conducting "intense" diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the fighting.
The conflict was sparked after after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of worshippers in the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This followed a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.
Inter-communal violence has also erupted between Jews and Palestinian-Israelis, while in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 20 Palestinians since May 10.
Abbas' Fatah party has called for a "day of anger" and a general strike on Tuesday, a call echoed in Palestinian Arab towns and in "mixed" towns in Israel.