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Palestinians go on strike as Israel and Hamas trade fire

A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) 
Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss, Associated Press

Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories have gone on strike over Israel’s policies.

The rare collective action comes as Israeli air strikes rain down on Gaza and militants fire dozens of rockets from the Hamas-ruled territory.

With the war in Gaza showing no sign of abating and truce efforts apparently stalled, the general strike and expected protests could widen the conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the occupied West Bank last week.

Tuesday’s air strikes toppled a six-storey building that housed libraries and educational centres belonging to the Islamic University, leaving behind a massive mound of rubble.

Israel warned the building’s residents ahead of time and there were no reports of casualties. Israel said it was targeting militants, their tunnels and rocket launchers across the territory.

Heavy fighting broke out May 10 when Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers fired long-range rockets towards Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

At least 213 Palestinians have been killed in heavy air strikes since, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,440 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians.

As the fighting drags on, medical supplies, fuel and water are running low in Gaza. Ten people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza towards civilian areas in Israel.

The fighting is the most intense since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, but efforts to halt it have so far stalled. Egyptian mediators are trying to negotiate a ceasefire, but the US has stopped short of demanding an immediate stop to the hostilities and Israel has so far vowed to press on.

With no end in sight to the fighting, Palestinians in Israel, east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank observed a general strike on Tuesday. It was a rare show of unity among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state of their own. Life had already ground to a halt in Gaza when the fighting began.

The strike was intended to protest against the Gaza war and Israeli policies that many activists and some rights groups say constitute an overarching system of apartheid that denies Palestinians the rights afforded to Jews. Israel rejects that characterisation, saying its citizens have equal rights. It blames the war on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, and accuses it of inciting violence across the region.

Leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel called the strike, which was embraced by the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, where ministries and schools were closed. Most businesses appeared to be observing the strike, and protests were expected.

Muhammad Barakeh, one of the organisers of the strike, said Palestinians are expressing a “collective position” against Israel’s “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as the “brutal repression” by police across Israel.

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