Israel orders schools closed as Gaza conflict rages on
US says it is working ‘intensively’ to end violence as no let-up in Israeli strikes on Gaza
As the current round of fighting entered its second week on Monday with no end in sight, Israel ordered schools in the south and centre of the country closed on Tuesday and Wednesday in an indication that its conflict with militants in the Gaza Strip would continue.
Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaidah on Monday night issued a warning of more strikes on Tel Aviv if Israel does not stop its attacks on Gaza immediately.
The fighting is the worst in the densely populated coastal enclave, home to two million Palestinians, since the devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
On Monday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the United States was working “intensively” to end the violence and rejected suggestions that Washington was blocking diplomacy at the United Nations.
Washington, Egypt and UN mediators stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the UN General Assembly will meet to discuss the violence on Thursday.
Israel said more than 50 war planes conducted a 20-minute attack on the Gaza Strip shortly before dawn on Monday. The Israeli army spokesperson claimed 15km of the Hamas underground tunnel network collapsed “causing the civilian houses’ foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties”.
Other targets on Monday included the Islamic Jihad commander for the northern Gaza Strip, homes of nine “high-ranking” Hamas commanders and a number of militant leaders killed in targeted assassinations. Israeli experts said the damage to the tunnel network meant more militant commanders were now moving above ground and therefore were more susceptible to pinpoint strikes.
More than 200 people have been killed in the Israeli strikes, including dozens of children. On Monday, at least seven Palestinians had been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza by evening time.
Reports from Gaza say hospitals are now at full capacity and electricity is rationed to about three hours a day. Generators are running out of fuel and the water supply is also in danger.
The current escalation began last Monday with a massive rocket salvo from Gaza aimed at the Jerusalem area, following days of clashes in the city, including around the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City.* Palestinian anger was fuelled by plans to expel residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for Jewish families.
In Israel, it was another day of sirens throughout the day, particularly in the south, warning of incoming rockets. Direct hits were reported on a number of apartment buildings and a number of people were injured but more than 85 per cent of incoming projectiles are successfully intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome missile defence batteries.
Ten Israelis have died in rocket attacks.
The same message is repeated in almost every interview with beleaguered residents of Israel’s south: they don’t care how long they have to stick it out as long as the campaign results in long-term quiet and not merely another pause before the next round.
The Israeli military also reported that it thwarted a Hamas attack from sea using an unmanned underwater vehicle and also destroyed the vessel that unloaded the underwater attack drone, killing several Hamas militants.
Inside Israel, a Jewish resident of the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod died of wounds sustained when he was hit in the head by a brick thrown by Arab rioters last week, becoming the first Jewish fatality from the wave of communal violence that spread throughout the country. – Additional reporting Reuters
* This article was amended on May 18th to remove a reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The United Nations and European Union do not recognise the contested city as the capital of Israel.