By FARES AKRAM and JOSEPH KRAUSS
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A rocket launched from Gaza killed two Thai workers in southern Israel on Tuesday, police said, hours after Israeli airstrikes toppled a six-story building in the Palestinian territory that housed bookstores and educational centers. With the war showing no sign of abating, Palestinians in the region staged a general strike in a rare collective action against Israel’s policies.
Violence erupted at protests in the occupied West Bank, including in the city of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and hurled stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, and protesters picked up some of them and threw them back.
One protester was killed and more than 70 wounded — including 16 by live fire — in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli army said two soldiers were wounded by gunshots to the leg.
The general strike was an uncommon 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. It threatened to further widen the conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the West Bank last week.
Strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh said Palestinians are taking a position against Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as the “brutal repression” by police. Israel blames the war on Hamas and accuses it of inciting the violence.
Since the fighting began last week between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired more than 3,400 rockets from civilian areas in Gaza at civilian targets in Israel.
The latest attack from Gaza hit a packaging plant in a region bordering the territory. In addition to the two people killed, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said it took another seven to the hospital. Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the wounded were also Thai.
The Israeli military said rockets also were fired at the Erez pedestrian crossing and at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where humanitarian aid was being brought into Gaza, forcing both to close. It said a soldier was slightly wounded in Erez attack.
Israel continued its airstrikes into Gaza, leaving behind a large pile of rubble in its attack on the six-story building with centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges. Desks, office chairs, books and wires could be seen in the debris.
Israel warned the building’s residents ahead of time, sending them fleeing into the predawn darkness. There were no reports of casualties.
“The whole street started running, then destruction, an earthquake,” said resident Jamal Herzallah. “This whole area was shaking.”
Since 2012, Hamed al-Ijla had run a training center in the building, teaching first aid, hospital management and other skills.
When the war is over, “I will set up a tent across the street and resume work,” he said.
The fighting began May 10 when Hamas 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 airstrikes since, including 61 children, with more than 1,440 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 160.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks.
The fighting is the most intense since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, but efforts to halt it have stalled so far. 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 vowed to press on.
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.
As the fighting drags on, medical supplies, fuel and water are running low in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Nearly 47,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
Israeli attacks have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out.
Essential supplies and aid have only trickled in during the fighting, some from Egypt through the Rafah crossing it controls and some from Israel when it briefly opened the territory’s main commercial crossing Tuesday before the attack forced it shut.
The WHO said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa Hospital, has hindered ambulances and supply vehicles in Gaza, which was already struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak.
The United States signaled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire even as President Joe Biden said he supported one.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bombardments had set the Palestinian militants back many years.
“I am sure that all our enemies around us see the price we have levied for the aggression against us,” he said, speaking in front of an F-16 fighter jet at an air force base in a video released by his office Tuesday.
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, and it has blocked a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling for an end to the crisis.
Among the buildings that Israeli airstrikes have leveled was the one housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.
Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday in Iceland that Israel had given the U.S. information about the bombing. Blinken declined to characterize the material, and Israel has not publicly provided any evidence of its claim.
AP President Gary Pruitt reiterated the organization’s call for an independent investigation of 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.”
This story has been updated to correct that the six-story building toppled in an airstrike housed bookstores, not libraries, and educational centers used by the Islamic University, not belonging to them.
Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Grant Peck in Bangkok and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.
Source: Orange County Register
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