U.S. President Joe Biden said late Wednesday that “Israel has a right to defend itself” amid a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian groups from Gaza in retaliation to Israel's recent aggression which left scores of civilians, including children, killed.
Biden also said that he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid the dayslong outbreak of violence that has killed dozens.
“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later,” he said.
“Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” ignoring the fact that Israeli aggression has indiscriminately targeted civilians for the past couple days.
The death toll from the ongoing Israeli airstrikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip has risen to 60, including 14 children, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday amid an escalation sparked by violent unrest at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. A ministry statement said that three women were among the victims in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, while 305 people were injured.
Hamas confirmed Wednesday that several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified four other top Hamas figures who it said were killed.
Two Israeli women were also killed by rockets fired from Gaza in response to recent Israeli aggression in the heavily targeted coastal city of Ashkelon, just north of Gaza, said the emergency service Magen David Adom. The local Barzilai medical center said it was treating 70 injured.
Hamas' Qassem Brigades had vowed to turn the town "to hell" and rained down an intense volley, claiming to have fired 137 rockets towards Ashkelon and nearby Ashdod within just five minutes. Loud booms again rocked the town on Tuesday, where a rocket had ripped a gaping hole into the side of an apartment block, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter said.
Over 90% of recent rockets from Gaza were reported intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, Israeli army spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said earlier.
Israel fighter jets and attack helicopters have carried out more than 130 strikes on military targets in the enclave, said Conricus. Israeli officials said they have killed 15 Hamas commanders, while the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad confirmed two of its senior figures were also killed.
Tensions in Jerusalem have flared into the city's worst disturbances since 2017 in the days since Israeli riot police clashed with large crowds of Palestinians on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem has left more than 700 Palestinians wounded, drawing international calls for de-escalation and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.
Hamas had Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where the looming forced expulsion of Palestinian families has fuelled angry protests.