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May 11, 2021

20 die in Israeli strikes on Gaza

A fire billows from Israeli air strikes in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2021. -AFP

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The Israel’s army and Hamas were engaged in air strikes and barrage of rocket fire on Gaza on Monday amid spiralling violence sparked by unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the current confrontation in the Gaza Strip could last for “some time” as US Secretary of State Blinken called on all sides to de-escalate situation.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Army Radio announced Tel Aviv had opened bomb shelters in, Jaffa. Also the Palestinian government called for UN intervention to stop Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip as situation turned volatile. Adding to the sense of chaos, a huge fire engulfed trees in the compound that houses the mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Temple Mount sacred to Jews.

At least 20 people were killed in Gaza, among them a senior Hamas commander, and 65 people were injured, local authorities said. But it was not immediately clear whether they all died in Israeli strikes or from a misfired Hamas rocket.

The Gaza health ministry said nine Palestinians, including three children, were killed "in a series of strikes in northern Gaza". "We have started, and I repeat started, to attack military targets in Gaza," Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

He said Israeli forces had targeted "a Hamas military operative," while Hamas sources in Gaza confirmed to AFP that one of their commanders, Mohammed Fayyad, had been killed. Conricus said he could "neither confirm nor deny" that its strikes caused all the nine fatalities, adding it may have been an "internal matter". Tensions in Jerusalem have flared since Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of Ramazan in the city's worst disturbances since 2017.

Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound has left hundreds of Palestinians wounded, drawn calls for de-escalation from the international community and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, on Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the east Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where looming evictions of Palestinian families have fuelled angry protests.

Sirens wailed across Jerusalem just after the 1500 GMT deadline set by Hamas as people in Jerusalem, including lawmakers in the Knesset legislature, evacuated into bunkers, amid warnings over loudspeaker in Hebrew and English.

The Israeli army said seven rockets were fired from the coastal strip into Israel, two of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defence system and three of which fell onto vacant lands.

A spokesman for Hamas armed wing the Qassam Brigades said that "a volley of rockets was fired towards the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to its crimes and aggression on the holy city and repression of its residents in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa mosque".

"This is a message that the enemy must understand well: if you respond we will respond, and if you escalate we will escalate." One Gaza rocket impacted at Beit Shemesh south of Jerusalem, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

A house in Beit Nekofa, about 10 kilometres west of central Jerusalem, was also damaged by rocket fire, AFP TV reported. The Israeli army said on Twitter that, separate to the rockets, "as a result of an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza, an Israeli civilian in a nearby vehicle was lightly injured" in the Gaza border area. Fears of further chaos in the Old City had temporarily eased when Israeli organisers of a march to celebrate the Jewish state's 1967 capture of east Jerusalem cancelled the event.

But then came the Hamas warning, followed by the rockets. "An alarm has just been sounded in Jerusalem. Police forces have begun evacuating hundreds of people" gathered at the Wailing Wall to safer locations, police said, later adding that the evacuation was completed.

Militants in Gaza have recently also deployed incendiary balloons that have sparked dozens of fires in Israeli territory. In Monday's Al-Aqsa clashes, as during the previous nights since Friday, Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll from Monday´s clashes at 331 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition. The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.

Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the Israeli police's "just struggle", praising the "steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying".

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas condemned what he called Israe's "barbaric aggression." Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas had crossed a "red line" by directing missiles towards Jerusalem on Monday and that the Jewish state would "respond with force".

"We are engaged in a fight on many fronts. Jerusalem, Gaza and other places in Israel. The terrorist organisations in Gaza crossed a red line on the night of Jerusalem Day, by firing rockets towards Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.

"We will respond with force. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Those who attack us will pay a heavy price," he added. Meanwhile, the US State Department has expressed concern over the violence in Jerusalem and Kabul and has called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take immediate steps to end escalating tensions.

Speaking with The News, the Urdu Spokesperson of the State Department Zed Tarar stressed on Israel and Palestinian authorities to patiently diffuse tensions rather than sparking emotional sentiments.

Expressing the grief over the loss of human lives in recent Kabul blast, Zed Tarar clarified that the American forces have been withdrawing from Afghanistan but the United States (US) would not leave Afghanistan alone. The US spokesman said the United States would keep working with its allies for peace as well as support for Afghan forces and the people in future.

Referring to the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic in South Asia, Zed Tarar said that the US was determined to assist not only India but also Pakistan to tackle the pandemic.

The Urdu Spokesperson of the State Department Zed Tarar mentioned that Pakistan received 1.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine delivered by COVAX programme. He further added that the second batch of the coronavirus vaccines will be supplied to Pakistan through COVAX soon.

COVAX programme aims to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the most vulnerable people in poor and middle-income countries.

“The US is deeply concerned by the severe COVID wave in Pakistan and outbreak in India”, stated Zed Tarar, adding that they are working around the clock to deploy more supplies and support to our friends and partners as they bravely battle this pandemic

Zed Tarar hinted that vaccine plant could be set up in South Asia, but that the raw material challenges existed for developing the vaccine. He explained that US President Joe Biden had already announced $2 billion to make the world safer through vaccination program and that economic activity would be difficult to restore until vaccinations were completed.