Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City early Tuesday as U.S. President Joe Biden "carefully" expressed support for a cease-fire in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Explosions from the airstrikes echoed through the predawn darkness in Gaza City, sending flashes of orange across the night sky. The strikes toppled the Kahil building, which contains libraries and educational centers belonging to the Islamic University. Clouds of dust hung over the site, which had been reduced to piles of concrete rubble and tangled power lines. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the overnight strikes.
The airstrikes on Gaza were preceded by days of tension and Israeli aggression in occupied East Jerusalem, where hundreds of Palestinians were assaulted by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The Israeli military said Tuesday it fired more than 100 munitions at 65 targets, including the homes of Hamas commanders. It said more than 60 fighter jets took part in the operation. At least 213 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes so far, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The strikes have brought down several buildings and caused widespread damage in the narrow coastal territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Israeli airstrikes and shelling have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and entirely destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a new report. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out. It said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa Hospital, has hindered the movement of ambulances and supply vehicles.
The U.N. aid agency said on Tuesday that more than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli air strikes that have destroyed or badly damaged nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip. About 47,000 of the displaced people have sought shelter in 58 U.N.-run schools in Gaza, Jens Laerke, spokesman of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters. Laerke said 132 buildings had been destroyed and 316 had been severely damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary healthcare centers.
Tashkeel3D, the first 3D printer in Gaza to manufacture medical devices, was also destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, according to Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Palestinian Canadian physician and founder of the Glia Project, a Tashkeel3D partner.
"Tashkeel3D and Glia Gaza were threatened with bombing previously by the Israeli military. While no specific reason was given, they were producing tourniquets to support Gaza's medical system at the time, which was likely what brought them to Israeli attention," Loubani said on Twitter. Tashkeel3D was started with a 3D printer built by its founder from scratch. It followed open source projects on the internet as Israel put restrictions on printers in Gaza. The company, which represented half of Gaza's 3D printing capacity, produced stethoscopes and tourniquets to support Gaza's medical system.
While Israel has vowed to press on with its operations, the U.S. president expressed support for a cease-fire between Tel Aviv and Gaza's Hamas rulers in a call to Netanyahu, but he stopped short of demanding an immediate stop to the eight days of Israeli airstrikes.
Biden's carefully worded statement, in a White House readout Monday of his second known call to Netanyahu in three days as the attacks pounded on, came with the administration under pressure to respond more forcefully despite its determination to wrench the U.S. foreign policy focus away from Middle East conflicts. Biden's comments on a cease-fire were open-ended and similar to previous administration statements of support in principle for a cease-fire. That is in contrast to demands from dozens of Democratic lawmakers and others for an immediate halt by both sides. But the readout of the call to the Israeli leader showed increased White House concern about the air and rocket attacks – including Israeli airstrikes aimed at weakening Hamas – while sticking to forceful support for Israel.
The U.S. leader "encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the White House said in its readout. An administration official familiar with the call said the decision to express support and not explicitly demand a cease-fire was intentional. The decision not to demand an immediate halt to hostilities reflects the White House's determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late Monday that Israel would "continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza "as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
As the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014 raged, the Biden administration had declined to press Israel publicly and directly to wind down its latest military operation in the Gaza Strip, a 6-mile by 25-mile (9 1/2-kilometer by 40-kilometer) territory that is home to more than 2 million people. Cease-fire mediation by Egypt and others has shown no sign of progress. Separately, the United States, Israel’s top ally, blocked for a third time Monday what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council expressing "grave concern” over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives. The final U.S. rejection killed the Security Council statement, at least for now. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. was focusing instead on "quiet, intensive diplomacy.”
Palestinians staged a nationwide general strike across the occupied West Bank and Arab towns in Israel on Tuesday to protest the ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Shops, business centers, civil institutions, banks, and universities shut their doors across the West Bank.
The general strike was called by Palestinian parties and unions as a "day of anger” over Israel's military escalations in Gaza and Jerusalem.
"The strike is an expression of anger against this barbaric aggression by the Israeli occupation state and international silence toward (Israeli) aggression against our people in Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and Gaza,” Fahmi Shaheen, the coordinator of the national and Islamic forces in Hebron, told Anadolu Agency (AA). "This strike acquires a special importance because it is joined by all the Palestinian people across historic Palestine,” he said.
Pro-Palestinian protesters marched in other parts of the world. Indonesian demonstrators marched to the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta on Tuesday to demand an end to Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.
Waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags and signs that read "Free Palestine,” several hundred demonstrators gathered along a major street in Jakarta that runs outside the embassy. More than 1,000 police were deployed around the compound, which is blocked off by concrete road separators.
One group of protesters, organized by the United Indonesian Muslim Student Action group, chanted "God is Great” and "Freedom for Palestine” as they marched. Their banners and placards slammed the airstrikes in Gaza and denounced America's staunch support of Israel.
Hundreds of journalists rallied across Pakistan on Monday to protest Israel's attacks on media offices in the Gaza Strip. The journalists held demonstrations in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and other cities, voicing solidarity with press workers from The Associated Press (AP) and Al-Jazeera, whose offices were destroyed in a recent Israeli strike on a tower housing media offices in Gaza, as well as AA and others harassed and attacked by the Israeli forces.
Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings. Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building housing the media offices and said any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hasn’t yet seen any evidence supporting Israel’s claim. AP President Gary Pruitt called for an independent investigation into the attack.
"As we have said, we have no indication of a Hamas presence in the building, nor were we warned of any such possible presence before the airstrike,” he said in a statement. "This is something we check as best we can. We do not know what the Israeli evidence shows, and we want to know."
In Islamabad, dozens gathered outside the National Press Club to denounce Israel's attacks on media offices. Addressing the rally, National Press Club President Shakil Anjum, termed Israel's attacks a "futile exercise to gag press freedom."
"We stand alongside our colleagues in Gaza," Anjum said as he addressed slogan-chanting demonstrators.
Carrying banners and posters decrying Israel's attacks on media outlets and in support of free media, over 100 journalists gathered outside Karachi Press Club. The speakers, including the club's General Secretary Rizwan Bhatti and President of the Karachi Union of Journalists Rashid Aziz, condemned the Israeli bombing of media offices and the injuring of several journalists in Gaza.
They slammed the attacks on Anadolu Agency and TRT journalists, with Bhatti saying Israeli forces were targeting Turkish media outlets in particular for showing the truth to the world.
In Lahore, more than 1,000 protesters, including women, children and civil society groups, gathered at the city's famous Liberty roundabout to voice their protest against Israeli aggression. A group of Palestinian students studying at different Pakistani universities also joined the rally.
"I'm here to thank the people of Pakistan for their support. Pakistani people are standing with us like blood brothers," Ali Hassan, a Palestinian student from the University of Lahore, told Anadolu Agency.
Addressing the rally, speakers condemned the Israeli bombing of civilians and media offices in Gaza, calling on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the ongoing massacre.
TRT Arabi's Gaza office was targeted by Israeli airstrikes when the reporter was on air on Thursday, injuring several people. Meanwhile, Turgut Alp Boyraz, AA's Middle East news editor, was shot twice by Israeli police in two separate incidents while covering recent events in Palestine.
Boyraz, a veteran journalist with eight years of experience with the agency, was shot in the foot with a plastic bullet on May 7 while covering a raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. He was later shot again in the leg with two rubber bullets in another Israeli police raid on the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, eight journalists were assaulted by Israeli forces in occupied East Jerusalem between May 7 and 10.
The U.N. Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming Israel airstrikes.
The Security Council session scheduled for Tuesday is the fourth since the conflict escalated and was called after the U.S. blocked the adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence for the third time in a week.
In the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas urged Washington to act against "Israel's aggression," in a meeting with U.S. envoy for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady Amr, the official Wafa news agency reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi are pushing for a cease-fire deal and aim to get the backing of Jordan. Another channel has been opened, via the U.N., with the help of Qatar and Egypt.
European Union foreign ministers debated Tuesday how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinians. The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict - now in its second week - but the nations are divided over how best to help. No firm decisions involving threats of sanctions or other measures are likely from the ministers’ videoconference.
Before the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that he had an exchange with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on how the United States and the bloc "can jointly contribute to end violence” and to reduce tensions. "Looking beyond, we also need longer term initiatives to break the dynamics of conflict and revive the prospect of a peaceful future for all,” wrote Borrell, who is chairing the meeting.