Diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas increased on Sunday as the death toll continued to rise from the escalating conflict.
After at least 37 Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza before dawn, Hamas said it had fired large rocket barriers into Israel. In the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod between Gaza and Tel Aviv, sirens wailed from rockets. The Magen David Adom emergency service reported “direct hits”.
The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years. In the opening speeches, United States Secretary-General António Guterres said the violence was “appalling” and caused “indescribable death” and immense suffering.
“The fight has to stop. It has to stop immediately,” he said.
Despite the appeals, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his military operation would continue “at full force” despite “international pressure”.
“There is always pressure, but overall we get very serious support,” he said on Sunday in a speech on Israeli television, citing US support.
His comments came just hours after US State Department envoy Hady Amr, who was posted to the region for de-escalation talks with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, met Israeli Defense Secretary Benny Gantz. Gantz also thanked the United States for their support.
At least 188 Palestinians – including 55 children – were killed in Gaza last week, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health. 10 people were killed in Israel. Hundreds were wounded on both sides.
In downtown Gaza City, ambulance teams and rescuers combed their way through debris left from pre-dawn air strikes. Rescue teams searched for corpses and survivors until the early evening. The Gaza Ministry of Health said the death toll could rise from 37 and that 50 people were injured.
Dr. Yousef Abu Al-Rish of the ministry warned that Gaza City’s health system was on the verge of collapse and told NBC News that supplies were running low and the streets around Al-Shifa’s main hospital were obstructing access for the injured .
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Sunday that the victims were “unintentional” after hitting an underground military facility, causing the civilian houses above to collapse.
“The IDF seeks to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, but Hamas has a responsibility to deliberately locate its military infrastructure under civilian houses, thereby putting civilians at risk,” the statement said.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said one of its clinics was also damaged in the nightly bombing.
According to the Israeli military, Hamas has fired more than 2,900 rockets at Israel since Monday. A man was killed when a missile exploded in the Ramat Gan suburb of Tel Aviv on Saturday.
The Israeli military announced early Sunday that its warplanes and planes had hit 90 targets in Gaza over the weekend – including the homes of senior Hamas leader Yahya Sinwa and his brother Muhammad.
The military also defended its decision to flatten the Al-Jala Tower, which housed the offices of international media organizations such as The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The building is “an important base of operations” for Hamas’ military intelligence.
Freedom of the press organizations and the AP have called for an investigation into and justification of the airstrike.
Gary Pruitt, CEO of AP, said the news organization had “no evidence” that Hamas was active in the building. “This is something that we are actively reviewing to the best of our ability,” he said in a statement. “We would never knowingly endanger our journalists.”
As losses continued to mount, international leaders expressed increasing concern about the worsening conflict and pressed for de-escalation. Saudi Arabia called an emergency meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation on Sunday.
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The European Union’s foreign affairs chief also announced urgent talks with his bloc’s foreign ministers to address the ongoing crisis and the “unacceptable number” of civilian casualties.
“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best help to end the current violence,” said Josep Borrell in a statement on Twitter.
Pope Francis used his weekly address to call for calm and urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “stop the gun cry and walk the path of peace.”
However, Netanyahu said the operation was “not over” – and will “last as long as it takes”.
His comments came a day after a phone call to President Joe Biden who said in the White House “reiterates its strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against missile attacks”.
Anger over the worsening conflict has sparked deadly protests in the occupied West Bank and a wave of intermunicipal violence in Israel.
On Sunday afternoon, several Israeli police officers were run over in what appeared to be a vehicle attack on a checkpoint in Jerusalem. A police spokeswoman said the driver of the vehicle had been shot and six officers were receiving medical treatment.
Lawahez Jabari, Paul Goldman, Charlene Gubash and The Associated Press contributed.