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Israel strikes Gaza after Joe Biden calls for ceasefire

Israel conducted an intense aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip hours after US president Joe Biden publicly backed international calls for a ceasefire between the Jewish state and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.

Sixty Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes on what the military described as a network of tunnels, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the armed forces to “continue striking”.

Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, retaliated with a volley of rockets into Israeli cities after a six-hour overnight lull. Witnesses reported that two buildings were targeted early on Tuesday in Gaza City, the heavily populated urban centre of the blockaded territory, as the fighting stretched into a second week.

A man walks past shuttered Palestinian stores in Hebron city, as a general strike is observed in the occupied West Bank and Arab Israeli cities in solidarity with Gaza and Jerusalem, on May 18, 2021. - The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming Israel air strikes that have killed more than 200 Palestinians. (Photo by Hazem BADER / AFP) (Photo by HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images)© HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images A man walks past shuttered Palestinian stores in Hebron city, as a general strike is observed in the occupied West Bank and Arab Israeli cities in solidarity with Gaza and Jerusalem, on May 18, 2021. – The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming Israel air strikes that have killed more than 200 Palestinians. (Photo by Hazem BADER / AFP) (Photo by HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli strikes had killed 212 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women as of Monday, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Israeli army officials said 130 of the dead were Hamas combatants and disputed Gazan estimates that more than half of the dead were women and children. Israel has reported 10 dead from the Hamas attacks, including two children.

Biden spoke to Netanyahu as the US president faced rising criticism from American progressives, including within his own Democratic party, who want the administration to exert more pressure to stop the hostilities.

A ball of fire explodes above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. - Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. 
(Photo by Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)© Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images A ball of fire explodes above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. – Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. (Photo by Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” according to a White House readout of the call. Biden also “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians”.

The US blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for de-escalation, cessation of violence and respect for international law, according to two UN diplomats. The decision was the third time Washington has thwarted a statement or softer measures since the violence began.

The UN, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to broker a short ceasefire to enable humanitarian aid to be sent into the Palestinian enclave, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007.

A streak of light is seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen© REUTERS/Amir Cohen A streak of light is seen as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s army chief, warned residents of communities adjoining the territory that the hostilities would continue as long as the country believed it was necessary.

“Hamas was surprised by our strength, method and achievements,” he said, referring to a military strategy, whereby Israel has carried out more air strikes at a faster pace than in earlier conflicts with Palestinian militants.

Israel has been condemned for targeting a building in Gaza that housed international media outlets over the weekend. Officials claimed that Hamas — which the US has designated a foreign terrorist organisation — operated from the same building.

TOPSHOT - Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. - Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)© MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images TOPSHOT – Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021. – Israeli jets kept up a barrage of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave of Gaza as a week of violence that has killed more than 200 people pushed world leaders to step up mediation. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said Washington had asked for details justifying the decision to strike the building following the attack but he had not seen any evidence himself.

Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator under both Democratic and Republican administrations, said the readout of the call between the Israeli and US leaders indicated that Biden was trying to bring the crisis to a close.

“It’s a subtle way of [Biden] making the point: ‘OK, you’ve done what you needed to do. Now it’s time to find a way out of this’,” he said.

Source: Ft.com

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