Israeli airstrikes kill 42 in Gaza as Biden, regional partners push for cease-fire
TEL AVIV, Israel - Predawn Israeli airstrikes Sunday on several homes along a main road leading to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City killed 42 people, including 10 children, according to Gazas Health Ministry, and the number was expected to rise. It is believed to be the single deadliest attack since the bout of violence began last week.
Diplomatic efforts by President Biden and U.S. regional allies to reach a cease-fire have not stopped the escalation between Israel and Hamas, which on Sunday trudged into its seventh day and has spilled over into mass protests in Israeli towns and in the West Bank.
From Saturday night into early Sunday, the Israeli military said it dropped 100 bombs on Hamas's underground tunnel system, known as the "Metro," and destroyed the homes of Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar, his brother and several other prominent military commanders. A Doctors Without Borders clinic in Gaza City that served as a trauma and burn treatment center was also hit, according to a statement by the organization.
Hamas on Saturday fired continuously into cities and towns across southern Israel, as well as toward the West Bank and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, which had experienced two days of relative calm. On Saturday night alone, Tel Aviv was targeted with more rockets than during all of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, according to Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin, commander of Israel's Home Front Command.
The Palestinian death toll climbed to 192, including 58 children; the numbers were expected to rise as more bodies were discovered from the overnight attacks. An Israeli man whose family described him as disabled was killed in a direct rocket hit to his building in a Tel Aviv suburb on Saturday, raising the death toll in Israel to 10.
On Sunday morning, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, which had been closed for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a day earlier than scheduled, to allow for the passage of students, people in need of medical care and other humanitarian cases from Gaza into Egypt, according to Gaza's Interior Ministry.
Egypt has sent 16 ambulances into Gaza to pick up injured people seeking treatment in Egyptian hospitals, a medical source told Reuters. He added that a bus carrying 95 people had arrived from Gaza on Sunday morning.
Biden, speaking to Netanyahu on Saturday, said he supported Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and other Gaza-based terrorist groups, according to the White House. He voiced concern for the loss of civilians, including children, on both sides, and the Israeli targeting of journalists in Gaza.
Israel launched airstrikes Saturday that obliterated several high-rises, including a 12-story tower that contained the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The military claimed it also housed Hamas military assets but offered no evidence.
Biden said he had "grave concern" over the clashes between Arabs and Jews that continued Saturday during Nakba Day, which marks the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Israel's founding in 1948. The event drew thousands of Palestinians to the streets in the West Bank and Israel in the largest turnout in years.
Israeli police arrested two Jordanian residents carrying knives in the northern Gilboa region after they crossed the border, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. They were suspected of planning to go to Jerusalem. Six Israeli police officers were injured in an apparent car ramming attack Sunday evening in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Rosenfeld said. The current round of violence was sparked by a dispute over evictions in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood.
After multiple rocket sirens sounded in the area of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv in recent days, most foreign airlines have suspended incoming and outgoing flights.
In a separate call, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Biden he had made "extensive contacts in order to reach a truce in Gaza," according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. Netanyahu has said repeatedly the Gaza campaign is expected to last at least several more days.
"We will continue to act, as much as is required, to restore peace and security to you, the citizens of Israel. It will take time," Netanyahu said in a televised statement Sunday evening. "There is always pressure on us, but we are receiving support from the United States and from many other nations."
Amr, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestinian affairs, and Jonathan Shrier, chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, met with Gantz Sunday to discuss a potential cease-fire with Hamas.
Mediators from the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan have been working in recent days to de-escalate the crisis.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia convened the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation in an emergency virtual meeting "to discuss the Israeli aggression in the Palestinian territory," the organization said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud called for an "immediate stop to military operations, and for the entry of aid and treatment for the injured," in some of his sharpest language against Israel to date. He condemned "forced displacement" in East Jerusalem.
The U.N. Security Council met in open session to discuss de-escalation Sunday. The body met behind closed doors twice in the past week to discuss the crisis. Secretary General António Guterres declared the hostilities in Israel and Gaza "utterly appalling" and called for an immediate end to the violence.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said "the human toll of this past week has been devastating." She said the Biden administration was "working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try and bring an end to this conflict."
Hamas has fired some 3,000 rockets since the violence exploded on Monday, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces. Hundreds of rockets have misfired and landed within the Gaza Strip, he said.
Nearly 90 percent of the rockets that enter Israeli airspace are intercepted by the country's Iron Dome defense system, according to Gordin, the commander of Israel's Home Front Command.
Conricus said Israel has struck some 700 military targets in Gaza in the past week. He said the Israeli operation would end by "Hamas stopping the fire toward Israel ... the most basic of preconditions. After that happens, there might be room for talks." But he also said military instructions were to "carry on" until all "current and future capabilities" of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza were destroyed.