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Israeli airstrikes kill 42 in Gaza as Biden, regional partners push for cease-fire

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed 42 people on May 16 as hostilities entered their second week amid increasing international calls for a cease-fire. (Video: Reuters)
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TEL AVIV — Forty-two people were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza early Sunday, the deadliest attacks in the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas, as diplomats pushed for an immediate end to the escalating hostilities.

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The U.N. Security Council met in open session Sunday to discuss the crisis as it lurched toward a second week. Mass protests have spread in Israeli towns and in the West Bank. Efforts by President Biden and regional allies to reach a cease-fire have yet to calm the conflict.

Here’s what to know:

  • Israeli airstrikes early Sunday targeted several houses on a main road near Shifa Hospital, leaving at least 42 dead as emergency workers sifted the rubble for bodies.
  • Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Tel Aviv and southern Israel throughout the night and into Sunday.
  • The Palestinian death toll in Gaza climbed to 192, including 58 children, according to local health officials. In the West Bank, at least 15 Palestinians have been killed since Friday, officials there said. A disabled Israeli man was killed Saturday in a rocket strike in a Tel Aviv suburb, raising the death toll in Israel to 10.
  • The U.N. Security Council met in open session Sunday, after two closed-door meetings in the last week, to discuss ways to de-escalate the conflict.
  • Hady Amr, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestinian affairs, met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday to discuss a cease-fire, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the military operation was expected to last at least several more days.

From Saturday night into Sunday, the Israeli military dropped 100 bombs on Hamas’s underground tunnel system, commanders said, destroying the homes of Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar, his brother and several other prominent military leaders. A Doctors Without Borders clinic in Gaza City that served as a trauma and burn treatment center was also hit, the organization said.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, fired a barrage of rockets toward Tel Aviv and southern Israel throughout Saturday night and into Sunday. 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 death toll in Gaza climbed to 192, including 58 children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Predawn Israeli airstrikes caused the collapse of three buildings on a main road near Shifa Hospital, killing 42, including 10 children and 17 members of a single family. The Israeli military said an initial investigation indicated the casualties were “unintended.”

In the West Bank, where Palestinians have clashed with the Israel Defense Forces, at least 15 Palestinians have been killed since Friday, health officials there said.

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. Six Israeli police officers were injured in an apparent car-ramming attack Sunday evening in East Jerusalem, police said.

With strikes targeting rockets and tunnels, the Israeli tactic of ‘mowing the grass’ returns to Gaza

The U.N. Security Council held its first open session on the crisis Sunday, overcoming U.S. objections that neither a public meeting nor a council statement would be helpful. The body met behind closed doors twice in the past week to discuss the violence.

While no unified statement was issued, members urged a cease-fire and concrete steps toward solving the perennial conflict once and for all with an agreement that would adhere to decades of U.N. resolutions on the establishment of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called the current violence “utterly appalling.”

“The only way forward is to return to negotiations with the goal of a two-states solution … living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, based on relevant U.N. resolutions, international law and prior agreements,” Guterres told the council in the virtual meeting. “The longer this cycle of violence continues, the more challenging it will be to reach that ultimate goal.”

Video captured the atmosphere on a cratered street on May 16, the morning after Israel launched airstrikes on the al-Wehda district in Gaza City. (Video: Hazem Balousha/The Washington Post)

Israel’s ambassador and the Palestinian foreign minister gave impassioned — and diametrically opposed — versions of how and why the current violence began.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Israel’s actions were a justified and proportionate response to indiscriminate rocket attacks fired by Hamas from behind human shields in Gaza. “Israel uses missiles to protect its children,” Erdan said. “Hamas uses children to protect its missiles.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki made no direct mention of the Hamas rockets. He said peaceful coexistence was impossible “until Israel bears the cost of occupation instead of reaping its benefits.”

“How many Palestinians killed is enough for a condemnation?” he said. “What is the threshold for outrage … an entire family wiped out of existence is not enough?”

Israel, he said, “is not only an occupying power, it is a nuclear power. It has an Iron Dome, shelters, while our people are … trapped, with no safe harbor.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called on “all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international humanitarian law. We also urge all parties to protect medical and other humanitarian facilities, as well as journalists and media organizations.”

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday obliterated several high-rises, including a 12-story tower that contained the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The Israeli military says it was also used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The United States, Thomas-Greenfield said, “has been working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict” and was prepared to lend support “should the parties seek a cease-fire.”

She called on Hamas and other Palestinian groups “to immediately halt rocket attacks and other provocations” but made no direct reference to Israeli airstrikes.

“We urge all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future,” she said. “This includes avoiding incitement, violent attacks, and terrorist acts, as well as evictions — including in East Jerusalem — demolitions and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines.”

The current violence was sparked by unrest over the eviction of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

An Israeli warning, an airstrike and then outrage over hit on Gaza media building

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups, according to the White House. He also expressed concern over the deaths of civilians, including children.

In a separate call, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Biden that 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 that 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,” he 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.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants have fired rocket salvos in the most intense fighting in years. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Hady 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 Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday to discuss a potential cease-fire with Hamas.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, convened the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation in an emergency meeting “to discuss the Israeli aggression in the Palestinian territory,” the organization said.

On Sunday morning, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, which had been closed for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, 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.

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.

After 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.

As Arab world rallies around Palestinians and bloodshed mounts, Trump-era peace deals fade from view

Hamas has fired some 3,000 rockets since the violence exploded last Monday, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the Israel 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.

Hazem Balousha in Gaza City, Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Claire Parker in Washington and Timothy Bella in Norwich, Conn., contributed to this report.