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Israel unleashes more air strikes after vowing to press on with Gaza operation

Palestinian kids look at a destroyed car after it was hit in an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021 (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) 
Associated Press Reporters

Israel has unleashed a fresh wave of air strikes across the Gaza Strip, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several others.

The latest strikes came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against US pressure to wind down the offensive against Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, who have fired thousands of rockets at Israel.

Explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the night sky, with air strikes also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah and the southern town of Khan Younis.

As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. There were also heavy air strikes on al-Saftawi Street, a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.

The Israeli military said it struck at least four homes of Hamas commanders, targeting “military infrastructure”, as well as a weapons storage unit at the home of a Hamas fighter in Gaza City.

An Israeli air strike smashed into the Khawaldi family’s two-storey house in Khan Younis, destroying it. The 11 residents, who were sleeping in a separate area out of fear, were all wounded and taken to hospital, said neighbour Shaker al-Khozondar.

Shrapnel hit his family home next door, killing his aunt and wounding her daughter and two cousins, he said. Weam Fares, a spokesman for a nearby hospital, confirmed her death and said at least 10 people were wounded in strikes overnight.

Mr Netanyahu has pushed back against calls from the Biden administration to wrap up the operation that has left hundreds dead.

It marks the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began last week and could complicate international efforts to reach a ceasefire. His pushback also poses a difficult early test of the US-Israel relationship.

After visiting military headquarters, Mr Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he appreciated “the support of the American president”, but that Israel would push ahead to return “calm and security” to its citizens.

He said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met”.

US President Joe Biden had earlier told Mr Netanyahu that he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire”, the White House said.

Mr Biden had previously avoided pressing Israel more directly and publicly for a ceasefire with Hamas. But pressure has been building for Mr Biden to intervene more forcefully as other diplomatic efforts gather strength.

Egyptian negotiators have also been working to halt the fighting, and an Egyptian diplomat said top officials were waiting for Israel’s response to a ceasefire offer.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official, told the Lebanese Mayadeen TV that he expected a ceasefire in a day or two.

The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began on May 10, when the militant group fired long-range rockets towards Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims.

Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

Since then, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network it refers to as the “Metro”.

Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted or landing in open areas.

At least 227 Palestinians have been killed, including 64 children and 38 women, with 1,620 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians.

Twelve people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed.

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