GAZA CITY: In a clear intensification of its aggression against Palestinians, Israel pummelled the Gaza Strip with more air strikes on Saturday, killing 10 members of an extended family and demolishing a building housing international media outlets.
The sharp uptick in atrocities by Israeli forces, now in its sixth day, claimed more lives as clashes also swept the occupied West Bank.
As a US envoy was preparing to meet representatives of the two sides, Israeli fighter jets struck several sites in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, which it has blockaded for more than a decade.
Hamas fighters responded with volleys of rockets into Israel, killing a man near Tel Aviv. Balls of flame thrust into the sky on Saturday afternoon as Israel’s air force flattened a 13-floor Gaza building housing Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the Associated Press news agency, after giving a warning to evacuate.
“It is clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth,” Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, said.
Jawad Mehdi, the owner of the Jala Tower, said an Israeli intelligence officer had told him he had just an hour to evacuate the building.
Qureshi talks to foreign ministers of China, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, stresses need for immediate easing of crisis
Israel claimed that “military intelligence” agents of Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s rulers, were also in the building.
The Associated Press said it was “horrified” by the strike, while the White House said it had told the Israelis that “the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility”.
AFP’s Global News Director Phil Chetwynd said: “We are profoundly shocked the offices of media organisations would be targeted in this way and we stand in solidarity with our colleagues from the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera at this difficult time.”
Earlier, an Israeli strike on a three-storey building in the Shati refugee camp killed 10 members of an extended family — two mothers and their four children each. Mohammed al-Hadidi said he had lost most of his family in the strike.
“What did they do to deserve this? We’re civilians,” said the devastated father, whose five-month-old baby was also wounded in the explosion.
“They are striking our children — children — without prior warning.”
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Middle East envoy, said he was “appalled” that 40 Gazan children had been killed in recent days.
Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza since Monday have killed 139 people, including 39 children, and wounded another 1,000, health officials say.
Palestinian armed groups have fired at least 2,300 rockets at Israel in retaliation for its aggression, killing 10 people and wounding over 560 Israelis. Israeli air defences have intercepted many rockets.
On Saturday afternoon, a rocket fired from Gaza killed an Israeli man on the outskirts of commercial capital Tel Aviv, police and medics said.
Eleven Palestinians were also killed on Friday in clashes in the West Bank, amid fears of escalation as Palestinians marked the Nakba, the “catastrophe” that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during Israel’s creation in 1947-1948.
A Palestinian security source said the fighting was the “most intense” since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.
US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was to hold talks on Sunday with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian officials to seek a “sustainable calm”, the State Department said.
Washington, which blocked a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Friday, has been criticised for not doing enough to calm the violence.
Pakistan on Saturday stressed the need for immediate de-escalation of the situation caused by Israeli violence against the Palestinians, Baqir Sajjad Syed added from Islamabad.
The call was made in Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s telephone conversations with his Chinese, Egyptian, and Sudanese counterparts. He had earlier emphasised the same in his conversations with foreign ministers of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Afghanistan.
The Foreign Office, in a readout on Mr Qureshi’s conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said: “The foreign minister underlined the importance of urgent steps by the international community to stop the Israeli attacks, protect the civilian population, facilitate engagement of the parties, and ensure just and lasting solution based on relevant UNSC resolutions and the two-state vision.”
The latest episode of Israeli violence began with Israeli police firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at the Palestinian youth at Al-Aqsa Mosque in which over 300 people were injured. The situation later escalated and Israeli forces fired missiles and bombarded Gaza strip.
Mr Qureshi, during the conversation, shared Pakistan’s concern over the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He warned that the situation was becoming a major threat to peace and security of Middle East.
The foreign minister noted that the violent attacks perpetrated by Israeli forces against the innocent worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and unarmed civilians and children in the occupied territories, were against humanitarian norms as well as the international law.
China, which has expanded its influence in the Middle East, has lately been taking interest in the Palestine issue. Mr Wang, while visiting Middle East in March, had said that Beijing would invite Israeli and Palestinian officials for holding their talks in China.
“The two foreign ministers agreed to deepen Pakistan-China strategic cooperation and coordination to deal with the emerging challenges and reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to intensify their collective efforts to promote peace, stability and imperatives of justice,” it added.
Foreign Minister Qureshi, meanwhile, also held a telephone conversation with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry on the rapidly evolving situation in Palestine.
He emphasised the need for regional powers and international community to play their part in de-escalating the tense situation.
The two foreign ministers also exchanged views on how the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) could play a constructive role in protecting the Palestinians. They agreed to accord highest priority to de-escalating the situation and resolved to continue liaising closely on the matter.
Foreign Minister Qureshi also received a telephone call from the Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi.
Mr Qureshi informed Ms al-Mahdi about Pakistan’s outreach with regional countries on the recent Israeli aggression. He stressed the need for concerted actions to prevent further escalation of violence and to protect the lives and human rights of the Palestinian people.
The two foreign ministers exchanged views on the role of the OIC in forging a united stance supporting the just cause of Palestine and protecting the innocent Palestinians from the indiscriminate and excessive use of force Israel.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021