Israel bombarded Gaza with airstrikes and Palestinian militants kept up cross-border rocket fire, with no firm sign of any imminent ceasefire as Wednesday began despite international calls to end more than a week of fighting.
Israeli leaders said they were pressing on with an offensive against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but an Israeli military spokesperson acknowledged that with an estimated 12,000 missiles and mortars in the groups’ Gaza arsenal, “they still have enough rockets to fire.”
Two Thai workers were killed and seven people were wounded in a rocket strike on an Israeli farm just over the Gaza border, police said. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Rockets were also launched at the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, further north, sending residents scrambling for shelter, in attacks that stretched late into Tuesday.
Hamas began firing rockets eight days ago in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem. The current hostilities are the most serious between the militant group and Israel in years.
Rising death toll
Gaza medical officials say 217 Palestinians have been killed, including 63 children, and more than 1,400 wounded since the fighting began on May 10. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.
Israel said its aircraft attacked homes belonging to several Hamas militants that were used as command centres or for weapons storage. Early on Wednesday, Israeli artillery shelled targets in the southern Gaza Strip, witnesses said.
Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres, since the current conflict began, the United Nations humanitarian agency said. Some 48,000 of the 52,000 displaced people had gone to 58 UN-run schools.
Israel said more than 3,450 rockets have been launched at it from Gaza, some falling short and others shot down by its Iron Dome air defence system. It put the number of militants it has killed at around 160.
“We will continue as long as it takes in order to restore calm for all of Israel’s citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video clip on Twitter, reaffirming remarks he has made over the past several days.
Calls for ceasefire
At a news conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is calling for a ceasefire.
He said the violence needs to stop and that Canada will work with the international community to de-escalate the situation “so that there is no more loss of civilian life.”
Trudeau said his heart goes out to Israelis and Palestinians as they live through the violence surrounding them.
WATCH | Canada working to de-escalate situation, PM says:
On a visit to Iceland, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had received further information requested from Israel about its destruction of a Gaza highrise that housed the local offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera news organizations.
Blinken gave no details about the information he said came through intelligence channels about Saturday’s attack.
Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now an adviser to Netanyahu, said Hamas intelligence had been situated in the building, whose occupants were warned by Israel in advance to evacuate.
Hamas was engaged in activity that would have undermined Israel’s ability to target effectively and intercept incoming rockets, Dermer told CNN.
Calling Netanyahu on Monday night, U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel had the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks but encouraged it to make every effort to protect civilians, the White House said.
Egypt and UN mediators also stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the UN General Assembly will discuss the violence on Thursday.
France called on Tuesday for a UN Security Council resolution on violence between Israel and Palestinian militants. Germany, meanwhile, called for a ceasefire and offered more aid for Palestinians before emergency European Union talks.
General strikes were held on Tuesday in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, Arab towns within Israel and in cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Ramadan clashes between police and worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem have caused anger among Palestinians.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian who tried to attack them with a gun and improvised explosives, and an unmanned aerial vehicle was downed near the border with Jordan on Tuesday, Israel’s military said.
Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces at a West Bank protest, health officials said. The military said soldiers had come under fire, which wounded two of them, and they shot back.
Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, deplored the general strikes as “another blow to the delicate fabric of relations and co-operation between Jews and Arabs.”
Palestinian businesses across East Jerusalem were shuttered, including in the walled Old City and in the mixed Jewish-Arab port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Protest organizer Raja Zaatar told Reuters the strike had closed 90 per cent of businesses in Arab neighbourhoods.
Overall in Israel, the strike appeared to have little effect on the general pace of commerce or on the high-tech industry. An official at a large supermarket chain in which many Arab workers are employed said its stores were operating as usual, though some deliveries were delayed.
Strike participation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, seemed high, a Reuters witness said.
“We closed our shop like everyone else in solidarity with all Palestinians against the acts that are carried out against all of us,” said Mahmoud Jabr, 50, a Ramallah grocery store owner.
Ra’afat al-Saman, a business owner in East Jerusalem’s Salahaddin Street, named after the Muslim conqueror who seized Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, said: “This is the least we could do for our own people.”