Netanyahu rules out immediate truce as Gaza death toll nears 200
Ten children among 42 Palestinians reported killed in Israeli air strikes on Sunday
With the death toll in Gaza from Israeli air strikes approaching 200, including more than 50 children, Israeli prime minster Binyamin Netanyahu has downplayed reports of ceasefire contacts, saying the military operation will take more time.
“The operation is continuing at full strength,” he said on Sunday. “This will take time. There is pressure but we are getting serious backing, foremost from the US. We have international backing and we are using it.”
There was no let up in the fighting on Sunday. Israel hit what it described as militant targets throughout the day as rockets continued to rain on Israel, particularly in the south and in communities close to the Gaza Strip.
The latest Israeli strikes destroyed several homes, killing 42 Palestinians, including 10 children, health officials said. The overall death toll in Gaza rose to 192, including 58 children.
The current hostilities 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.
More than 3,000 rockets have been launched from Gaza, killing 10 people in Israel, including two children.
Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday that more than 1,000 targets had been struck in Gaza, exacting a serious toll on Hamas, the militant organisation that runs the enclave, including to its extensive network of underground tunnels.
Gaza residents report that the bombardments over the past six days has been heavier than in any previous round of fighting. Tens of thousands have lost their homes and the destruction is on a level that will take many years to repair.
Amongst the latest targets hit were the Khan Yunis home of Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahiya Sinwar, and his brother Muhammad Sinwar, whom Israel described as head of logistics and manpower for the militant group. Rocket launch stations, weapons storehouses and the Hamas interior ministry building were also hit, Israel said.
The Israeli military is assessing whether the destruction of the Hamas infrastructure and the killing of some of its commanders in earlier strikes will be sufficiently traumatic to deter the Islamist group from firing rockets on Israeli cities for the foreseeable future.
The assessment is that that point may be close, but that the army needs to continue operations for a few more days. The army still has militant targets in its sights but, according to senior military sources, Israel is quickly reaching the point of exhausting the usefulness of continuing the campaign.
However, there is concern that a dramatic military development with multiple casualties on either side could torpedo moves towards a truce.
A Palestinian driver rammed his car into an Israeli police checkpoint in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood on Sunday, wounding six border police. The driver was shot and killed.
The blanket coverage of the conflict on Israeli radio and television stations is interrupted regularly with warnings of incoming projectiles, listing the locations to where people must head immediately to shelter.
As has been the case in previous rounds of fighting, Egypt will likely play a key mediating role to bring about a truce, at which point both sides will try to convince their publics that despite the suffering significant achievements were made.
“In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday,” he said.
“We will co-ordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”
* 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.