Israel Opposition Leader Agrees On Coalition Government To Oust Netanyahu

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on June 2, 2021, shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the city of Lod early on May 12, 2021, and Israel’s centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on May 31, 2021.
DEBBIE HILL, Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP / POOL

 

Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid said he had succeeded in forming a broad-based coalition to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.

Should it be confirmed by the 120-member Knesset legislature in the coming days, it would end the long reign of the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi, who has long dominated Israeli politics.

Lapid’s announcement late Wednesday came in the final hour before a midnight deadline, following marathon negotiations with a group of parties spanning the political spectrum, united only in their desire to oust Netanyahu.

“I succeeded,” Lapid, a former TV news anchor, wrote on Facebook. “I promise that this government will work in the service of all of the citizens of Israel, those who voted for it and those who did not.”

The right-wing nationalist tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, 49, would serve first as prime minister in a rotation agreement, with Lapid to take over after two years.

“With the help of God we will do together what is good for Israel and we’ll get Israel back on track,” Bennett told Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin after Lapid had informed Rivlin of their coalition.

The opposition leader and his partners now have at least a week before lawmakers must vote to confirm their government -– a period during which Netanyahu and his Likud party are expected to try to do what they can to prevent it.

Should last-minute defections scupper the “change” alliance, Israel would likely have to hold yet another election, the fifth in just over two years.

 Down to the wire

Lapid, who heads the secular centrist party Yesh Atid, last Sunday won the crucial support of Bennett, head of the Yamina “Rightward” party.

To build the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lapid had to sign individual agreements with seven parties.

They include the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar and right-wing secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party.

Also part of the alliance is the Labor party, the dovish Meretz party, and the centrist Blue and White party of Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu in three previous votes.

Gantz, who tweeted it was a “night of great hope,” headed to Washington for pre-scheduled talks Thursday on Iran with US officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The change alliance also includes the Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party Raam, whose head Mansour Abbas late Wednesday announced that he had joined in order to secure funding and policies to benefit Israel’s 20 percent minority of Palestinian descent.

“I just signed an agreement with Yair Lapid so that he can declare that he can form a government after reaching… agreements on various issues that serve the interest of Arab society,” he said.

Other Arab lawmakers supported the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from outside his coalition in the 1990s, but Abbas was the first Arab politician in Israel to openly bargain for a role in the coalition, said political analyst Afif Abu Much.

Abu Much noted that lawmakers with other parties representing Arab citizens of Israel announced they would oppose the government headed by Bennett, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

‘Fraud of century’

Lapid was tasked with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to put together his own coalition following March elections, the fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years.

In an editorial, The Jerusalem Post warned that “the hard part is just beginning” for the disparate coalition but said it “has a chance to really change Israel for the better” after years of political turmoil.

Wednesday night’s deal deepens the woes of Netanyahu, 71, who is on trial for criminal charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust while in office — accusations he denies.

If he loses power, he will not be able to push through changes to basic laws that could give him immunity and will lose control over certain justice ministry nominations.

The premier, who served an earlier three-year term in the 1990s, has long been the dominant figure of Israeli politics and was close to former US President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu clinched historic normalisation agreements with four Arab states and unrolled a hugely successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

But he has not engaged in substantive peace talks with the Palestinians, who have been angered by Israel’s deepening control of areas they eye for a future state.

Escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians last month spiralled into a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

Netanyahu defiantly condemned the alliance against him as “the fraud of the century” last Sunday, warning that it would result in “a left-wing government dangerous to the state of Israel”.

-AFP

Isaac Herzog Elected As Israel’s 11th President

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 18, 2016, Israeli co-leader of the Zionist Union party, Labour Party’s leader and head of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, addresses the media in Jerusalem.
MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

 

Israel elected the even-keeled Labor veteran Isaac Herzog as its 11th president Wednesday, a parliamentary vote that coincidentally fell as opposition lawmakers scrambled to forge a coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu.

Herzog, 60, beat former headmistress Miriam Peretz to replace President Reuven Rivlin, who was elected in 2014 to the largely ceremonial position.

Wednesday’s presidential vote came as Israeli politicians from across the spectrum were holding 11th-hour negotiations to cobble together a new administration aimed at ending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12 straight years in office.

The Israeli presidency exerts little power, primarily meeting with party leaders after legislative elections and tasking candidates with forming governments. It is the country’s prime minister who wields actual executive authority.

But the president does have the ability to grant pardons — a potentially important function as Netanyahu faces trial for alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Herzog, who will assume his position on July 9, succeeded over Peretz, 67, a former headmistress who lost two children in Israel’s wars and is known as “the mother of sons”.

The scion of one of Israel’s most prestigious families, Herzog was first elected to parliament in 2003 but was most recently leading the para-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, an organisation focused on relations with Jewish immigrants and the diaspora.

His election on the day that could see Netanyahu’s rivals make moves to take him down is fitting: in 2015 Herzog carried out a bid to oust the premier, presenting himself as a modest, diplomatic contrast to the bombastic “Bibi”.

The son of Chaim Herzog — Israel’s sixth president and a former ambassador to the United Nations — and nephew of the famed diplomat and statesman Abba Eban, the new president supports the two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians.

During his 2015 campaign, he vowed to relaunch a peace process, even saying he was prepared to “remove” Israeli settlements if necessary.

-AFP

 

Israel, Egypt Hold Talks Toward Gaza ‘Permanent Ceasefire’

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip's rulers Hamas Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip’s rulers Hamas. Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli and Egyptian officials held talks in both countries Sunday aimed at bolstering the Cairo-brokered ceasefire that ended the latest deadly flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem to discuss “strengthening cooperation” between their countries, Netanyahu’s office said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tasked Kamel and his delegation, who were also to visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, with hammering out a permanent ceasefire deal, senior Egyptian security officials told AFP.

On the same day, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi made the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat to neighbouring Egypt in 13 years, for talks with his counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Ashkenazi tweeted on his arrival that they would “discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community”.

The Egyptian foreign ministry tweeted that the ministers’ talks were “part of Egypt’s relentless and continued efforts to revive the peace track and to build on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip”.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was also expected in Cairo for talks, senior Egyptian security officials said, without providing further details.

Egypt played a pivotal role in negotiating the May 21 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that brought an end to 11 days of deadly fighting.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, health officials said.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, medics said.

Prisoners

Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s demand “for the prompt return” of Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip, according to the statement.

Ashkenazi also said Israel was “fully committed” to repatriating Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.

Since Israel’s 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group has held the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, although Hamas has never confirmed their deaths.

Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza alone and whose families say they have mental health issues.

Israel is meanwhile holding more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails.

Sisi has pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated Gaza enclave, which was pummelled by Israeli air strikes.

Hamas has pledged not to touch “a single cent” of international aid to rebuild Gaza.

Israel, which has enforced a land and maritime blockade on the enclave since 2007, accuses the group of diverting international aid to military ends.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said he and Kamel also discussed “mechanisms and processes to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and its use of the resources that will be directed to the civilian population in the future”.

Root causes

The latest violent flare-up was sparked by increased tensions in Jerusalem, including over Israeli security forces cracking down on Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

A bitter divide between Hamas and Fatah has long plagued Palestinian politics, but analysts say the latest escalation has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.

Sisi also tasked Kamel with working to help iron out political divisions between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Egyptian officials said.

The UN Human Rights Council decided Thursday to create an open-ended international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence.

It said it would also look at the “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination” in the occupied Palestinian Territories and inside Israel.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the bombing of Gaza and warned the Israeli strikes on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.

AFP

Israeli ‘Change’ Bloc Steps Up Effort To Oust Netanyahu

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israelis waited Sunday to see whether nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett would agree to join a governing coalition that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu were in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, 71, who faces trial on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges which he denies, has clung to power through a period of political turmoil that has seen four inconclusive elections in under two years.

After a March vote in which Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most seats but again failed to form a government, former TV anchor Yair Lapid is now trying to build a rival coalition.

Centrist Lapid has until Wednesday 11:59 pm local time (2059 GMT) to build a coalition of at least 61 deputies, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The 57-year-old is seeking to forge a diverse alliance the Israeli media has dubbed a bloc for “change”, which would include Bennett as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.

In his determination to bring down the hawkish prime minister, Lapid has offered to share power and let Bennett, 49, serve the first term in a rotating premiership.

Bennett was expected to speak Sunday evening after a meeting with his party, a spokeswoman said.

Netanyahu, in office for 12 consecutive years after an earlier three-year term, tried to cling to power Sunday by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.

He warned that Israel would otherwise be ruled by a dangerous “left-wing” alliance.

‘Desperate position’

A Lapid government would also include the centrist Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.

Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party as well as historically powerful Labour and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

The shaky arrangement would the backing of some Arab-Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian descent in order to pass a confirmation vote in parliament.

The intense talks follow weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

The war with Hamas that ended with a May 21 truce, as well as tensions in the occupied West Bank and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel, initially appeared to leave Netanyahu more likely to hold onto power.

But political scientist Gayil Talshir at Hebrew University told AFP on Sunday that Israel was now “closer than ever” to a coalition of change, adding that “Netanyahu is in a desperate position”.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections but failed to form a governing coalition after his far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.

Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, was then given four weeks to form a government.

Netanyahu had previously pushed for yet another election, which would be the fifth since April 2019.

“Now that he sees a change coalition may be announced this evening or tomorrow, he has to move forward with a more serious deal,” Talshir told AFP.

More elections?

On Sunday Netanyahu offered a rotation agreement to Bennett and Saar. But Saar on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime”.

Netanyahu in a video then called on Saar and Bennett to “come now, immediately” to meet him and join a three-way rotation government, warning they were “in crucial moment for the security, character and future of the state of Israel”.

Lapid’s “change” coalition also still faced several obstacles.

Some right-wing lawmakers object to a partnership with politicians from Israel’s Arab minority, around a fifth of the population.

The recent Gaza conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities.

Arab politicians have also been divided about joining a government headed by Bennett, who supports expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to create a future state.

Even with support from an Arab party, a new coalition in Israel is unlikely to reverse years of Israeli settlement construction or bring peace any time soon with Hamas in Gaza.

If the anti-Netanyahu camp does not manage to form a government on time, a majority of 61 lawmakers could vote to ask the president to name a new premier.

Another scenario would be for the country to gear up for yet another general election — Israel’s fifth in a little more than two years.

Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian In West Bank, Says Health Ministry

A ball of fire erupts from the Jala Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP)

 

Israeli forces on Friday shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Zakaria Hamayel, 28, was struck by a bullet to the chest in the village of Beita, south of Nablus, during a protest against Israeli settlement expansion on Palestinian land, the ministry said.

The Israeli army said it was investigating the incident.

“We are aware of reports regarding a killed Palestinian. The cause of the injury is still unknown,” it said in a statement.

It said a “violent riot” took place near the “Givat Eviatar outpost” and that “troops responded with riot dispersal means”.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a raid in the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

Israeli forces have been carrying out arrests across the West Bank following violence that erupted around this month’s 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

An Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas came into effect a week ago.

More than 25 Palestinians have been killed in clashes since May 10 in the West Bank alone, where some 475,000 Israeli settlers live alongside around 2.8 million Palestinians.

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

AFP

Israel President To Visit US Within Weeks

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech during a ceremony marking one year since the death of the late Israeli President Shimon Peres on September 14, 2017 at the Mt. Herzel cemetery in Jerusalem. Gali TIBBON / AFP

 

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is to visit Washington within weeks, his office said Wednesday, in the first such trip by a high-ranking Israeli official to meet US President Joe Biden.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken extended the invitation to Rivlin as they met on the second day of a Middle East tour aimed at shoring up a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza.

“Secretary Blinken conveyed President Biden’s invitation to visit the United States before the end of his term of office” on July 5, the president’s office said in a statement.

File photo:  U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House on April 22, 2021, in Washington, DC. Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

Rivlin, whose post is largely ceremonial and cannot be renewed, “accepted the invitation and asked Blinken to convey to the president that he will gladly visit before his presidency ends”.

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Blinken met Rivlin before travelling on to Egypt and Jordan.

During his visit, the top US diplomat reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas, which he said must not benefit from the aid effort to rebuild the coastal enclave of Gaza.

Eleven days of Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza since May 10 killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children as well as fighters, authorities in Gaza say.

Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say.

AFP

Biden Vows To Help ‘Rebuild’ Gaza, Insists On Two-State Solution

A Palestinian woman walks past a dsetroyed building in the al-Rimal commercial district in Gaza City on May 22, 2021, following a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Israeli-blockaded enclave.  (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden on Friday pledged to help organize efforts to rebuild Gaza and said creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the “only answer” to the conflict.

Biden also said he had told the Israelis to stop “intercommunal fighting” in the flashpoint city of Jerusalem.

However he stressed “there is no shift in my commitment, commitment to the security of Israel” and added that until the region “unequivocally” acknowledges Israel’s existence “there will be no peace.”

The idea of a two-state solution — with a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel and Jerusalem as their shared capital — has been the cornerstone of decades of international diplomacy aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US policy under Donald Trump was criticized as being blatantly pro-Israel and ignoring the Palestinians.

A Mideast peace plan devised by Trump’s adviser and son in law Jared Kushner was billed as providing for a two-state solution. But that blueprint envisioned a Palestinian state with only limited sovereignty and Israel maintaining security over that state.

 

A Palestinian inspects the rubble of buildings, destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 21, 2021. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

 

The plan was rejected out of hand by Palestinian leaders.

Biden on Friday insisted on a full-blown two-state remedy.

“There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel, period, no shift, not at all,” he said.

“But I tell you what there is a shift in. The shift is that we still need a two-state solution. It is the only answer, the only answer,” Biden stated.

 

A Palestinian policeman walks on the rubble of Arafat City, Gaza’s police headquarters in Gaza City on May 22, 2021, following a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Israeli-blockaded enclave. – As the ceasefire holds, humanitarian aid began to enter the enclave ravaged by 11 days of bloodshed. While thousands of displaced Palestinians returned to their homes, and Israelis began to resume normal life a day earlier, international focus turned to the reconstruction of the bomb-shattered Gaza Strip. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Netanyahu Hails Gaza Operation As ‘Exceptional Success’

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday hailed Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza as an “exceptional success”, after a ceasefire to end the deadly conflict took effect. 

“We achieved our goals in the operation,” Netanyahu said of the campaign primarily targeted at Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, and Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in the enclave.

The hawkish premier said “the public doesn’t know everything” about Israel’s gains in the operation “and neither does Hamas.”

Palestinians carry one of the survivors from under the rubble of a building after it was struck by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, May 16, 2021. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

 

Gaza’s health ministry has put the death toll from Israel’s airstrikes at 243.

Netanyahu said Israel’s strikes had killed “more than 200 terrorists” in Gaza, including 25 senior commanders.

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Defence Minister Benny Gantz added that Israel’s operation followed plans that had “been prepared for years and months”.

“The military action is over. Now is the time for political action.”

The pre-dawn ceasefire brokered by Egypt and agreed by Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad appeared to be holding Friday.

Egypt has said it will monitor the truce.

Gantz warned Hamas it would pay a “heavy, very heavy” price if it breached the ceasefire.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza on May 10 in response to Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, following weeks of building tensions between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the city.

In total, Palestinian groups fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 12 people.

AFP

Mideast Ceasefire ‘Good’ But Conflict Causes Must Be Addressed: Germany

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (L) and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi visit a building that was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, on May 20, 2021, in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva. (Photo by Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

 

 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday welcomed a ceasefire brokered between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, after 11 days of deadly fighting.

“Good that there is now a ceasefire,” Maas tweeted, a day after he visited Israel and Ramallah for talks. “Now we have to deal with the causes, rebuild trust and find a solution to the Middle East conflict,” he said.

Egypt Pledges $500 Mn To Rebuild Gaza, Sends Medical Aid

Palestinians look for salvageable items amid the rubbe of the six-storey Kuhail building which was destroyed in an early morning Israeli airstrike on Gaza City on May 18, 2021. – The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting today amid a flurry of urgent diplomacy aimed at stemming Israel air strikes that have killed more than 200 Palestinians. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged Tuesday $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza, his office said, after a week of Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave.

“Egypt will provide $500 million… for the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip as a result of recent events, with expert Egyptian construction companies implementing the rebuilding,” the presidency said in a statement.

Cairo has sought to mediate a ceasefire between Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and Israel since the deadly violence erupted on May 10.

Since then, Israeli air strikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Twelve people have been killed on the Israeli side, according to authorities in the Jewish state.

Sisi is holding talks in Paris with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and Jordan’s King Abdullah II aimed at seeking a rapid truce to the lethal conflict.

Egypt also sent 65 tonnes of medical aid to neighbouring Gaza, its healthy ministry said.

With hospitals in Gaza overwhelmed by patients, the critical surgical supplies include specialist burns treatment as well as “ventilators, oxygen tanks (and) syringes,” Health Minister Hala Zayed said late Monday.

Sisi on Sunday ordered the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt — the enclave’s only border point not controlled by Israel — to open to allow wounded Gazans to be treated in Egyptian hospitals and to deliver aid.

Sources at Rafah on Tuesday said that 26 trucks of food had been sent to Gaza, with 50 ambulances ready to transport the wounded.

Egypt said it would make space in 11 hospitals nationwide at a capacity of over 1,800 beds.

Israel launched its aerial bombing campaign on Gaza after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets in response to unrest in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The Israeli strikes have killed 213 people, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 in Gaza, according to the health ministry.

The UN says nearly 40,000 Gazans have been displaced and 2,500 have lost their homes.

Strikes have knocked out the only Covid-19 testing laboratory in the blockaded enclave, the health ministry has said.

No Respite From Israel-Gaza Fighting As Diplomatic Efforts Intensify

Palestinian men stand amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, on May 13, 2021. MOHAMMED ABED / AFP
Palestinian men stand amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, which housed the bureau of the Al-Aqsa television channel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, on May 13, 2021. MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

 

The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday amid a diplomatic push to end the devastating conflict between Israel and Gaza’s armed groups that has killed more than 220 people, most of them Palestinians.

Israel maintained its heaviest-ever daily rate of bombardment of the blockaded enclave overnight, sending a fireball and a black plume of smoke into the sky following one heavy strike, an AFP journalist reported.

Despite growing calls for an end to the violence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Monday that Israel would “continue striking at the terrorist targets”.

Israel launched its air campaign on the Gaza Strip on May 10 after the enclave’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, fired a barrage of rockets in response to unrest in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Israeli air strikes have killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Palestinian militants have fired around 3,350 rockets toward Israel that have killed 10 people, including a child, Israeli authorities said.

Air raid sirens again wailed in southern Israel through the morning, sending families fleeing into bomb shelters.

The 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.

– Covid test lab hit –

Israel’s overnight barrage again set the night sky over the densely populated coastal enclave ablaze as multiple strikes crashed into buildings in Gaza City shortly after midnight.

“They destroyed our house but I don’t know why they targeted us,” said Nazmi al-Dahdouh, 70, of western Gaza City, adding he was now homeless after “a terrifying, violent night”.

The Israeli army said on Tuesday it had struck dozens of “targets” inside Gaza since midnight, while Palestinian militants had fired 70 rockets, dozens of which were intercepted by air defences.

A strike late Monday knocked out Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said. 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 poverty-stricken territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients.

Israeli fire has cratered roads and battered crucial infrastructure, causing blackouts and prompting the electricity authority to warn Monday it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.

The UN on Tuesday praised Israel’s decision to open the Kerem Shalom crossing so humanitarian goods could enter Gaza.

Israeli authorities told AFP there was no immediate timeframe for the re-opening.

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 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.

Rockets have meanwhile also been fired at Israel from Lebanon, where protests against Israel’s Gaza campaign have been held in the border area. The Israeli army said the six rockets did not reach its territory.

– ‘Day of anger’ strike –

Palestinians across the West Bank and in east Jerusalem were Tuesday largely adhering to a general strike called in support of those under bombardment in Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement has called for a “day of anger” and strike, a call echoed in Arab and ethnically mixed towns inside Israel.

All non-essential Palestinian businesses were closed in West Bank cities and east Jerusalem, with large demonstrators planned for the afternoon, including at the flashpoint Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City.

“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 it had “neutralised” an assailant attempting to attack soldiers in Hebron on Tuesday. The Palestinian health ministry confirmed the man’s death.

Even as Security Council ceasefire efforts have faltered, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and the Egyptian government — a key intermediary — on Monday, saying that Washington was engaged in “quiet, intensive diplomacy”.

The French and Egyptian presidents, Emmanuel Macron and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, are pushing for a ceasefire deal. Another channel has been opened, via the UN, with the help of Qatar and Egypt.

The military 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 worshippers 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 21 Palestinians since May 10.

AFP

Israel Re-Shuts Gaza Crossing After Mortar Fire

Ambulances evacuating injured Palestinians to Egypt for treatment arrive at the Rafah border crossing with the neighbouring country, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 17, 2021.
SAID KHATIB / AFP

 

Israel said it had closed a crossing into Gaza shortly after opening it Tuesday to allow in humanitarian goods, after mortars were fired at the area as aid trucks passed through.

Israel had opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to allow in “trucks carrying civil aid donated by international aid organisations to the Gaza Strip,” said COGAT, the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories.

“After a firing of mortar bombs towards the Kerem Shalom Crossing… it has been decided to stop the entry of the rest of the trucks,” the COGAT statement said.

More to follow . . .