Gaza’s only Covid testing lab destroyed in Israeli strikes, says health ministry
19 May 2021 Heavy air strikes and rocket fire in the Israel-Gaza conflict claimed more lives on both sides Tuesday as tensions flared in Palestinian “day of anger” protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting amid a diplomatic push to end the fighting, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would continue its military onslaught on the coastal enclave “as long as necessary”.
Israeli forces and protesters meanwhile clashed at multiple flashpoints across the occupied West Bank and in east Jerusalem, hospitalising scores after Palestinians took to the streets in solidarity with their besieged counterparts in Gaza.
Israel’s intense bombing campaign on Gaza has killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza in more than a week of fighting against Islamist group Hamas, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
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The death toll on the Israeli side rose to 12 when a volley of rockets Hamas fired at the southern Eshkol region killed two Thai nationals working in a factory and wounded several others, police said.
Israeli strikes that again sent fireballs, debris and black smoke into the sky have levelled homes and multi-story towers, cratered roads and left two million Palestinians in Gaza desperate for reprieve.
“They destroyed our house, but I don’t know why they targeted us,” said Nazmi al-Dahdouh, 70, of Gaza City who remained shocked by what he called “a terrifying, violent night”.
The humanitarian crisis deepened in the impoverished strip, from where Hamas has launched nearly 3,500 rockets at Israel since May 10, often forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.
But a convoy of international aid trucks that started rolling into Gaza through a border crossing from Israel, Kerem Shalom, was halted when Israel quickly shuttered it again, citing a mortar attack on the area.
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The UN Security Council session, the fourth since the conflict escalated, was called after the United States, a key Israel ally, blocked adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence on Monday for the third time in a week.
US President Joe Biden, having resisted joining other world leaders and much of his own Democratic party in calling for an immediate end to hostilities, told Netanyahu Monday night he backs a ceasefire, but stopped short of demanding a truce.
France and Egypt are pushing for a ceasefire deal, while Qatar and Egypt are working through another channel, via the UN.
The conflict risks precipitating a humanitarian disaster, with the UN saying nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been displaced and 2,500 have lost their homes.
Fighter jets have hit what the Israeli military dubs the “metro”, its term for Hamas’s underground tunnels, which Israel has previously acknowledged run in part through civilian areas.
A strike on Monday knocked out Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said, and the Qatari Red Crescent said a strike damaged one of its offices in the enclave.
The rate of positive coronavirus tests in Gaza has been among the highest in the world, at 28 percent.
Hospitals in the territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients and there are frequent power blackouts.
Speaking at an air force base in Israel’s south, Netanyahu said Hamas and Islamic Jihad had “received blows they didn’t expect.”
“We’ve taken them many years back,” the premier said. “We’ll continue as long as necessary to bring… quiet back to the citizens of Israel.”
‘Day of anger’
Palestinians across the West Bank and in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem mobilised Tuesday for protests and a general strike that shuttered non-essential businesses, in support of those under bombardment in Gaza.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement had called for a “day of anger”, a call echoed in Arab and ethnically mixed towns inside Israel.
“We are here to raise our voice and stand with the people in Gaza who are being bombed,” Ramallah protester Aya Dabour told AFP.
Israel’s army said troops came under fire north of Ramallah. It said two soldiers suffered leg injuries and were taken to hospital.
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In a separate incident, a 25-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli troops in Al-Bireh, north of Ramallah, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The ministry reported 70 people hospitalised due to clashes with Israeli forces throughout the West Bank, five of them in a serious condition.
Earlier in the day, an assailant who attempted to attack soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron was shot dead.
Tensions again flared in east Jerusalem’s flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where Palestinian protesters faced off against police, who used stun grenades and “skunk water” cannon to disperse protesters.
The Israel-Gaza conflict was sparked after clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound — one of Islam’s holiest sites — after Israeli forces clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians on May 7.
This followed a crackdown against protests over planned evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.
Israel has been trying to contain violence between Jews and Israeli Arabs, as well as unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 22 Palestinians since May 10.