Israel-Gaza conflict rages as US envoy visits

A baby injured in Israeli attack carried out to home of Palestinian Abu Khatab Family living in Al-Shati Camp in Gaza Strip, being brought to Shifa Hospital on May 15, 2021, in Gaza City, Gaza

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A US envoy has arrived in Tel Aviv for de-escalation talks as unrest between Israel and the Palestinians continues.

Hady Amr will take part in talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN officials and reinforce what US diplomats said was the need for a “sustainable calm”.

An Israeli air strike on a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip killed 10 people on Saturday, while a Palestinian rocket killed a man in Israel.

This week’s violence in Gaza and Israel is the worst since 2014.

At least 139 people have been killed in Gaza and nine in Israel since the fighting began on Monday, and sirens were sounding again on Saturday afternoon in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel.

On Friday clashes spread to the West Bank, where a further 11 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were injured. Israeli forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire, as Palestinians threw petrol bombs.

Saturday is the day when Palestinians commemorate what they call al-Nakba, the Catastrophe. It marks the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced or driven from their homes in the Arab-Israeli war which began the day after Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

The prospect for more trouble on Saturday is very real, BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams says.

What is the latest on the fighting?

Thirteen people died in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, with 10 killed by an Israeli air strike at a refugee camp west of Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

Funerals in Gaza, 15 May

Reuters

A five-month-old baby is said to be the only survivor of that strike, found trapped in the rubble next to his dead mother. A number of people were also reported missing.

Akram Farouq, 36, dashed out of his home in Gaza along with his family after a neighbour told him they had received a call from an Israeli officer warning their building would be hit, Reuters news agency reports.

“We haven’t slept all night because of the explosions, and now I am out in the street with my wife and children, who are weeping and trembling,” he said.

An estimated 10,000 Palestinians have left their homes in Gaza since Monday because of the conflict, according to the UN.

Israeli officials reported about 200 rocket launches from Gaza overnight, with homes hit in the southern cities of Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot.

A drone picture shows the house of the El-Gazar family which was damaged after a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel, in Sderot, southern Israel May 15, 2021

Reuters

In Beersheba, 19 people were taken to hospital after getting slightly hurt while running to shelters, and three suffered from shock, The Times of Israel reports.

In the afternoon, a rocket hit a street in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, killing a man. He was reportedly hit by shrapnel in his apartment.

From the rocket impact in Ramat Gan pic.twitter.com/qxkQlIL6eF

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About 2,300 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since Monday, with about 1,000 intercepted by missile defences and 380 falling short and dropping into Gaza itself, Israel’s military says.

Israel has said a ground offensive in Gaza is one option being considered but a decision has yet to be made.

What is the US envoy seeking to achieve?

Mr Amr’s arrival comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Sunday. The US embassy in Israel said the aim of his trip was to “reinforce the need to work toward a sustainable calm”.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has had to rapidly step up its game on the diplomatic front without a full team in place: there is not even a nominee yet for ambassador to Israel.

Mr Amr is a mid-level diplomat without the kind of rank held by special envoys in previous US administrations, the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher says.

Map showing Israel and the Gaza Strip

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Martin Indyk, who served as US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, believes there is a good chance the fighting will cease soon.

“I think that both sides have limited objectives and they’re essentially reaching the point where it doesn’t make sense, for either Hamas or [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu, to continue this war,” he told BBC News.

But veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi says she does not hold much hope that Mr Amr’s involvement will lead to a stop in the fighting.

“Biden waited for a whole week before he sent a third, fourth-level, not even a third, fourth-level civil servant and you think the Israelis are going to listen?” she told the BBC.

“The Americans delayed the Security Council meetings. I think this is a sort of pro forma thing. If they really mean business then they can, at the highest level, come out and say ‘stop the shelling, stop the killing’.”

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Analysis box by Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor

Both sides need to be able to say they’ve won

The end games in the wars between Hamas and Israel have followed a pattern since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Foreign mediators have thrashed out a variety of ceasefires. That’s what the Americans, Egyptians, the UN and others are trying to do now.

For that to work, both sides need to be able to tell their people they’ve won.

Hamas will want to say that it is the real protector of Palestinian rights, not just in Gaza but also in the occupied West Bank including Jerusalem.

Israel will want to show its people that it has done serious damage to the Hamas infrastructure. A much used phrase is “restore deterrence”. That means showing their enemies that hitting Israel will only bring pain and suffering.

Both sides will struggle to find words for bereaved families or traumatised children.

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What caused the violence?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem.

The site is revered by both Muslims, who call it the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and Jews, for whom it is known as the Temple Mount. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. Hamas launched rockets when its ultimatum went unheeded.

Palestinian anger had already been stoked by weeks of rising tension in East Jerusalem, inflamed by a series of confrontations with police since the start of Ramadan in mid-April.

Map showing key holy sites in Jerusalem

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It was further fuelled by Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, known as Jerusalem Day.

The fate of the city, with its deep religious and national significance to both sides, lies at the heart of the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel in effect annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of other countries.

Palestinians claim the eastern half of Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for state of their own.

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