Senior Islamic Jihad fighter killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza as death toll rises to 212

Hassam Abu Harbid, commander of the northern division of Islamic Jihad, died in the latest barrage

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent, in Jerusalem
@beltrew
Tuesday 18 May 2021 00:52
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<p>Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s attacks  on Gaza were continuing at ‘full-force’</p>

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s attacks on Gaza were continuing at ‘full-force’

Israel says it has it has killed a top Islamic Jihad fighter commander during a ferocious war of airstrikes on Gaza, as the US pressed the army for evidence of Hamas operating from a Gaza media office tower block it destroyed.

The Israeli military said it has killed Hassam Abu Harbid, commander of the northern division of Islamic Jihad that it said was behind several anti-tank missile attacks on Israeli civilians, including one that hit at the start of the week of violence.

Islamic Jihad sources confirmed the killing to Reuters.

Israel also claimed to have destroyed nine miles of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders in the same wave of strikes.

But questions have been raised over the proportionality of some of the attacks, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken saying on Monday he has not seen any Israeli evidence of Hamas operating in the Gaza office building which housed the media operations of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera hit by an earlier airstrike over the weekend.

The 14-storey block was completely levelled by an airstrike, shortly after Israel ordered it to be evacuated, sparking international outcry and accusations it might be collective punishment and a violation of international law. 

Blinken says he has asked Israel for justification regarding the strike and requested all parties in the conflict to protect civilians, adding that the United States is working intensively to put an end to the violence.

“We have been working around the clock through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to the conflict,” Blinken said at a joint briefing with Denmark’s foreign minister in Copenhagen.

“The United States remains greatly concerned by the escalating violence. Hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble. We are ready to lend support if the parties (...) seek a ceasefire.”

At least 212 Palestinians have been killed, 61 of them children and mostly by Israeli airstrikes, according to the Gaza health ministry, which said 1,400 people had been wounded.

In Israel 10 people have been killed by intense rocket fire from Gaza including two children and a soldier.

Gaza’s mayor Yahya Sarraj told Al Jazeera TV that the air strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

“If the aggression continues we expect conditions to become worse,” he said.

Medical officials and international medical charities told The Independent that several clinics and hostels had been damaged by indirect fire, two senior doctors killed in their homes and roads to Gaza’s biggest hospital had been damaged, impeding medics’ ability to respond to the wounded and save lives.

Meanwhile Gaza is on the cusp of running out of fuel needed to operate its only power plant.

That is expected to happen in a day after which officials warn there would be near-total blackouts across the entire strip, significantly impacting hospitals, homes and water supplies. 

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City’s Rimal residential district

Despite the massive toll on civilians the fighting showed no signs of slowing down. 

In a televised address on Sunday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time”.

Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group.

Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said the group has been contacted by the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of ceasefire efforts but “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people”.

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