Israel strikes Hamas tunnels amid international calls for cease-fire and a climbing death toll

May 17 (UPI) — Israel continued its barrage of airstrikes into Gaza overnight and into Monday as fighting with Hamas entered its second week despite repeated calls for a cease-fire from the international community.

The Israeli military said fighter jets overnight “neutralized” 9.3 miles of Hamas’ so-called Metro tunnel system, which it has been targeting for days.

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Fifty-four jets struck roughly 35 targets and the tunnel system with 110 munitions as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ “significant operation against the underground terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” it said, adding it was its third round of attacks against the tunnel system in northern Gaza, a self-governing Palestinian territory.

Nine residences the military said were used as Hamas infrastructure and housed high-ranking officials, including various battalion commanders for the cities of Beit Hanoun and Sabra, were also hit.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has designated a foreign terrorist organization, continues to fire rockets at Israel. The IDF said Hamas launched 60 rockets overnight with about 10 of them falling back into Gaza and dozens more intercepted by Israeli air defense fighters.

Sheikh Jarrah, a spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, told The Times of Israel its recent barrage of rocket fire was in response to Israeli airstrikes on Sunday that killed 42 people, including 10 children and 16 women, making it the deadliest day of conflict since the fighting re-ignited May 10.

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The Palestinian Ministry of Health said as of 6 p.m. Sunday at least 192 Palestinians have been killed, including 58 children and another 1,235 have been wounded amid the fighting with expectations that the death toll will rise.

On Sunday night, the ministry said it was still attempting to dig people and bodies out from the rubble of the earlier attack.

The Israel Defense Forces says it does not target civilians and has repeatedly accused Hamas of placing military targets in residential buildings and civilian areas to use Palestinians as human shields. Israel also blames the death toll on errant Hamas rockets that fail to make it over the border.

In Israel, at least 10 people have died, including two children.

Israel says Hamas has fired about 3,150 rockets at it since it began its barrage May 10 in response to Israel failing to withdraw security forces from a Jerusalem mosque that was earlier raided amid rising tensions between the two sides as Israel seeks to evict Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

In response to Hamas’ rockets, Israel launched Operation Guardian of the Walls, hitting more than 1,500 targets in Gaza.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden spoke with both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to White House readouts of the calls.

To Abbas, Biden stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets while expressing concern over the deaths of innocent civilians. To Netanyahu, he re-iterated the United States’ support of Israel’s right to self-defense.

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To both leaders, Biden “expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom and economic opportunity that they deserve” as well as affirming his support for a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, 29 Democrats issued a statement Sunday urging an immediate cease-fire “to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

The calls for a cease-fire came as foreign ministers failed Sunday to produce a U.N. Security Council statement on the conflict with China accusing the United States as preventing one from being finalized.

“The Security Council shoulders the primary responsibility for safeguarding international peace and security,” Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said in a statement. “Regrettably, simply because of the obstruction by one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice.”

In a separate statement delivered by Norway’s permanent representative to the United Nations Mona Juul, the nations of Norway, Tunisia and China demanded an immediate cessation to all fighting.

“We urged both sides to work to urgently lower tensions and end the violence,” they said.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told the public in a press conference with military leaders that they have exacted a “heavy” price from Hamas, destroying in days tunnels its military took a decade and vast capital to produce.

Concerning international pressure, he said Israel has received “very serious backing” from countries including the United States.

He said the goal is to stop the violence and then after rehabilitate relations between Jews and Arabs so they can coexist, cooperate and be partners in “the great success called the State of Israel.”

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However, Netanyahu signaled that there was no end to the ongoing fighting in sight.

“We are continuing to take action, even at this hour, as long as necessary to restore quiet and security to you, citizens of Israel,” he said. “It will yet take time.”

Source Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2021/05/17/israel-Israel-air-strikes-Gaza-second-week-fighting/4301621232096/

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