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Israel says it will strike more Hamas tunnels running under Gaza homes, rockets fired from Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he shows a slideshow during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel May 19, 2021.

Sebastian Scheiner | Reuters

Israel is continuing its bombardment of Gaza as Israeli-Palestinian violence enters its second week and militants in the blockaded Gaza strip carry on their rocket fire.

Hostilities have spilled out into Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel, as Palestinian protesters striking in solidarity with Gazans clash with Israeli police, some of the protesters throwing rocks while police respond with tear gas. Many of the demonstrators do not support Hamas, but see the protests as acts of resistance against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Late Wednesday afternoon Lebanese security officials reported several rockets fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. Israel’s military said air raid sirens were triggered in northern Israel and that one of the four rockets fired into the country was intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system.

“In response, IDF artillery forces are striking a number of targets in Lebanon,” the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said on its Twitter account.

Airstrikes from Israeli fighter jets killed six people in Gaza on Wednesday and levelled an extended family home in the territory that was home to 40 people. Members of the family say a warning missile fired five minutes before the bombing enabled everyone in the house to escape with their lives.

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza rose to 219 including at least 63 children, according to health officials there. At least 17 Palestinians have also been killed in the West Bank since Friday. The death toll in Israel currently stands at 12, including two children. Two Thai workers in southern Israel were killed in a rocket attack fired from Gaza on Tuesday.  Israel says more than 3,400 rockets have bombarded its cities and towns.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he shows a slideshow during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at a military base in Tel Aviv, Israel May 19, 2021.

Sebastian Scheiner | Reuters

The IDF said it plans to expand its bombing of Hamas’ tunnel networks, many of which run under Gaza’s civilian areas. Already several homes have been destroyed by the bombings, with Palestinian families buried under the rubble. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the operations show “there is a price” for Hamas’ aggression against Israel. 

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus described the tunnels as the “backbone” of Hamas’ operations, saying that the campaign to obliterate the subterranean network “will be expanded” in the coming days.

Hamas — the U.S.-designated terrorist group spearheading the rocket attacks on Israel — also governs the Gaza Strip, a 140-square mile strip of land housing 2 million people that has been under Israeli blockade since 2007. 

International efforts toward a cease-fire

International calls for cessation of the violence have meanwhile grown. President Joe Biden in a Wednesday morning call with Netanyahu said he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” It was the fourth call between the two heads of state since the violence erupted.

Meanwhile, France, Egypt and Jordan all pushed for an immediate cease-fire and unhindered access to humanitarian aid in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

“The three leaders (of France, Egypt and Jordan) emphasized the urgency of addressing the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by resuming effective negotiations to achieve a just and lasting peace,” a joint statement said Wednesday. 

“The three leaders emphasized that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the two-state solution remains indispensable for a comprehensive peace in the region.” 

A Palestinian elderly man walks past a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, on May 19, 2021.

Mohammed Abed | AFP | Getty Images

Members of the U.N. Security Council have meanwhile pushed for resolutions calling for cease-fires, all of which the U.S. have so far blocked, reportedly because the texts did not mention Hamas’ rocket attacks as part of the problem. The latest U.S. rejection of a resolution was late Tuesday night, leaving the security council with no joint statement as bombs and rockets continued to fly. 

Egypt’s key role as broker

There may be a sign of progress, however; late Tuesday night, Israel media reported that diplomatic efforts involving Egypt and the U.S. could produce a cease-fire in the next two to three days. Egypt holds significant clout as it brokered the truce that ended the last Gaza war in 2014, and is the only country with lines of communication to both Israel and Hamas.

The government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has already opened communication with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and sent mediators to Jerusalem, and has opened its border to Gaza — the only land border connecting the blockaded enclave to the rest of the world — to allow injured Gazans access to Egyptian hospitals.

A Palestinian man stands by the body of Menna Shreir, 3, on May 19, 2021 at a morgue in Gaza City, after she died of her injuries following an Israeli air strike.

Mohammed Abed | AFP | Getty Images

International pressure, however, may be fruitless as long as Hamas and Israel have incentives to continue attacking one another. Even left-wing Jewish Israeli members of Israel’s parliament who support Palestinian statehood have not called for an end to the Israeli military offensive, given that Hamas’ rockets are still being launched at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

The U.S. administration continues to reiterate Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Washington is Israel’s top arms dealer, and provides it with $3.8 billion in military aid annually. 

Israeli media reported this week that House Democrats will demand a halt in a planned arms sale by the Biden administration of precision-guided missiles to Israel. The administration earlier in May notified Congress of an intended sale of $735 million of the weapons to Israel, Reuters reported at the time.

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