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Palestinians Go on Strike Amid Bombings05/18 06:18

   

   GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Palestinians across Israel and the occupied 
territories went on strike in a rare collective action against Israel's 
policies on Tuesday as Israeli strikes rained down on Gaza and militants fired 
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 again widen the 
conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the 
occupied West Bank last week.

   Tuesday's airstrikes toppled a six-story building that housed libraries and 
educational centers belonging to the Islamic University, leaving behind a 
massive mound of rebar and concrete slabs. Desks, office chairs, books and 
computer wires could be seen in the debris. Residents sifted through the 
rubble, searching for their belongings.

   Israel warned the building's residents ahead of time, sending them fleeing 
into the predawn darkness, and there were no reports of casualties. Israel said 
it was targeting militants, their tunnels and rocket launchers across the 
territory.

   "The whole street started running, then destruction, an earthquake," said 
Jamal Herzallah, a resident of the area. "This whole area was shaking."

   Heavy fighting broke out May 10 when Gaza's militant Hamas rulers fired 
long-range rockets toward 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 airstrikes 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 5-year-old 
boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from 
civilian areas in Gaza toward 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 cease-fire, but the U.S. 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 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 characterization, 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 organizers 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.

   The war has also seen an unusual outbreak of violence in Israel, with groups 
of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and torching 
vehicles and buildings. In both Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian 
protesters have clashed with Israeli forces.

   The Israeli military said Tuesday it fired at 65 militant targets, including 
rocket launchers, a group of fighters and the homes of Hamas commanders that 
the army said were being used for military purposes. It said more than 60 
fighter jets took part in the operation.

   The military said it also shot down a drone "approaching the Israeli border" 
in the northeast, far from the Gaza fighting. It did not say where the unmanned 
aircraft originated, but it's possible the drone came from Syria.

   The military said Palestinian militants fired 90 rockets, 20 of which fell 
short into Gaza. Israel says its missile defenses have intercepted about 90% of 
the rockets.

   Israel's strikes have brought down several buildings and caused widespread 
damage in the narrow coastal territory, which is home to more than 2 million 
Palestinians and has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized 
power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

   The attacks have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and entirely 
destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said in a new 
report. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out.

   It said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa 
Hospital, has hindered the movement of ambulances and supply vehicles. Over 
41,000 displaced Palestinians have sought refuge in U.N. schools in Gaza, which 
was already struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak. Gaza is also 
running low on fuel for its electricity supply and water.

   Israel has vowed to press on with its operations, and the United States 
signaled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire even as President 
Joe Biden said he supported one.

   "We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm 
and security to all Israeli citizens," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 
after meeting with top security officials on Monday .

   The Biden administration has declined so far to publicly criticize Israel's 
part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region. On Monday, the 
United States again blocked a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling 
for an end to "the crisis related to Gaza" and the protection of civilians, 
especially children.

   Since the fighting began, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of 
airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas' militant infrastructure. Palestinian 
militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,400 rockets into Israel.

   Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, 
while Israel says the number is at least 160 and has released the names of and 
photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were "eliminated."

   Israel's airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City's tallest buildings, 
which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was 
the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media 
outlets.

   Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the 
building and said any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hasn't yet seen any evidence 
supporting that.

   AP President Gary Pruitt reiterated the organization's call for an 
independent investigation into the attack.

   "As we have said, we have no indication of a Hamas presence in the building, 
nor were we warned of any such possible presence before the airstrike," he said 
in a statement. "We do not know what the Israeli evidence shows, and we want to 
know."

 
 
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