[World-news] Biden phones Israeli and Palestinian leaders

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US President Joe Biden has phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after another day of violence in the region.

The international community has called for an end to the escalating conflict.

Earlier, Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed 10 people in a refugee camp and, separately, destroyed a building that housed foreign media organisations.

Hundreds of Palestinian rockets were fired into Israel, causing one death.

The UN Security Council will meet on Sunday to discuss the situation. US envoy Hady Amr has arrived in Tel Aviv to take part in talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN officials, and reinforce what US diplomats said was the need for a “sustainable calm”.

Since the fighting began on Monday at least 145 people have been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials, and Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children. Israel says dozens of militants are among the dead in Gaza, while Palestinian health officials say its death toll includes 41 children.

The flare-up of violence over the last six days came after weeks of spiralling Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem, which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas – the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza – began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

How did the fighting escalate on Saturday?

Ten members of one family where killed by an Israeli air strike at a refugee camp west of Gaza City.

A five-month-old baby, Omar Al-Hadidi, was the only survivor, after his mother, four siblings, aunt and four cousins died.

Palestinian infant boy Omar Al-Hadidi lies on a hospital bed after Gaza health officials said an Israeli missile struck a house, killing his mother and four siblings, in Gaza City May 15, 2021
image captionOmar, five months old, was the sole survivor of a strike that hit his family’s home

The baby’s father, Mohammad Al-Hadidi, was not at home at the time. “There were no rockets there, just women and children, no rockets, just peaceful children celebrating [Muslim festival] Eid, what have they done to deserve this?” he told Reuters news agency.

A doctor treating Omar said: “He was in a bad condition. His thigh bone is broken and he has bruises all over his body but thankfully after first inspection he is stable.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Palestinian militants had fired 278 rocket launches from Gaza, with homes hit in the southern cities of Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot.

The IDF also said “many dozens” of rockets that crossed into Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

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.

Police and rescue teams at the scene of a direct rocket hit in Ramat Gan, Israel, May 15, 2021
image captionThe site of the direct rocket hit in Ramat Gan, Isreal, where a man was killed

On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel would “continue to respond forcefully”, insisting care was being taken to limit civilian casualties.

What happened to the Gaza tower block?

Earlier in the day, an Israeli air strike destroyed a high-rise building housing media organisations, including The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, plus a number of offices and apartments.

In a statement released shortly afterwards, the Israeli military said the building housed military assets belonging to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza. The building’s landlord has denied this.

Palestinians inspect the rubbles after an Israeli air strike hit Al-Jalaa tower, which houses apartments and several media outlets, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, in Gaza City, 15 May 202
image captionThe remains of the multi-storey Al-Jalaa tower, which was home to various media organisations

The Associated Press (AP) said the block was hit roughly an hour after Israeli forces ordered people to evacuate.

The news organisation’s CEO, Gary Pruitt, said: “This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.”

Map showing Israel and the Gaza Strip

What was said in Biden’s phone calls?

The White House said President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he continued to support Israel’s right to defend itself. He expressed concern over deaths on both sides and, following the tower-block strike, called for journalists to be protected.

Mr Biden’s also spoke, for the first time since taking office, with President Abbas, telling him he was committed to “strengthening the US-Palestinian partnership”. He also said the Hamas rocket fire into Israel had to stop.

President Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank, has little power in Gaza, which is run by Hamas militants. But the US will not speak to Hamas, as it regards them as a terrorist organisation.

Mr Biden told both leaders that he remained committed to finding two-state solution to the conflict.

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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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Timeline: How the violence escalated

The worst violence in years between Israel and the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip has seen dozens killed. It follows a month of spiralling tensions before open conflict broke out. Here is what happened in the lead-up to the fighting.

13 April

Israeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate
Image captionIsraeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus GateIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Clashes erupt in East Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police.

Palestinians are angry over barriers which had been placed outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Jerusalem‘s Old City preventing them from gathering there after prayers at the Old City’s al-Aqsa Mosque on what is the first night of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinian discontent had been stoked earlier in the day when President Mahmoud Abbas called off planned elections, implicitly blaming Israel over voting arrangements for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Hamas – Mr Abbas’ Islamist rivals who control Gaza and were running in the elections – react angrily to the postponement.

Violence around Damascus Gate and elsewhere in East Jerusalem continues nightly.

15-16 April

Rockets are fired from Gaza at Israel, which responds with air strikes after a relative period of calm between Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

19 April

Clashes spread to the mixed Arab-Jewish port city of Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv.

20 April

In Jerusalem, Jewish youths, angry over a spate of filmed assaults by Palestinians on Orthodox Jews posted on the TikTok video-sharing app, attack Arabs and chant anti-Arab slogans.

23 April

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate
Image captionIsraeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus GateIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Hundreds of ultra-nationalist Jews shouting “Death to Arabs” march towards Damascus Gate in protest at the Arab assaults on Jews. Clashes erupt at the site between Palestinians and police trying to separate the two groups, injuring dozens of people.

Violence between Arabs and Jews spreads to other parts of the city.

24 April

Militants fire dozens of rockets at Israel from Gaza, drawing retaliatory air strikes.

2 May

President Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas condemn the looming threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers ahead of a planned court hearing. Hamas calls on Arabs to form “human shields of resistance” there.

In the days that follow, police and protesters repeatedly clash at the site as it becomes a focal point for Palestinian anger.

4 May

Militants in Gaza begin sending incendiary balloons into Israel over successive days, causing dozens of fires.

7 May

Two Palestinian gunmen are shot dead and a third is wounded after opening fire on Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank. Israeli authorities say the group planned to carry out a “major attack” in Israel.

The al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence
Image captionThe al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violenceIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

Later on after Friday prayers – the last of Ramadan – major clashes erupt at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, injuring more than 200 people. Israel’s police force says it used “riot dispersal means”, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades after officers came under a hail of stones and bottles.

8 May

A second night of violence erupts in East Jerusalem after tens of thousands of worshippers prayed at the al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan.

Police and protesters clash at Damascus Gate, with police using water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas against crowds of Palestinians, some throwing stones.

More than 120 Palestinians and some 17 police are injured.

9 May

Israel’s Supreme Court postpones the hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah case following calls to delay it because of the growing unrest. Tensions remain high though and more clashes take place between Israeli police and Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and at Damascus Gate.

10 May

Early morning clashes break out between police and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, where crowds throw stones and officers fire stun grenades.

Palestinian anger has been inflamed by an annual Jerusalem Day march planned for later in the day by hundreds of Israeli nationalists to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

The march is due to pass through predominantly Arab parts of the Old City in what is seen by Palestinians as a deliberate provocation. It is rerouted at the 11th hour, but the atmosphere remains volatile with more than 300 Palestinians and some 21 police injured in the violence at the holy site.

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