Gaza death toll from Israel airstrikes rises to 83

By: AFP      Published: 03:24 PM, 13 May, 2021
Gaza death toll from Israel airstrikes rises to 83
Palestinians inspect the damage caused by the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza city.

The death toll from more than two days of Israeli strikes on Gaza has risen to 83, the health ministry controlled by the territory's Islamist rulers Hamas said Thursday. 

The dead included 17 children, while 487 people have been wounded, the ministry said. 

The Israeli military said it had struck Gaza more than 600 times since Monday evening while Hamas has fired more than 1,600 rockets towards Israel

Hamas on Thursday said it fired a large rocket at Israel's Ramon airport near Eilat, where incoming passenger flights were diverted after waves of rocket launches towards the main airport near Tel Aviv.

A spokesman for Hamas' armed wing announced the launch of the 250 kilogram (550 pound) rocket and demanded that "all international airlines immediately halt their flights to any airports" in the Jewish state.

Hamas has fired over 1,600 rockets towards Israel since Monday, with the Israel military saying it struck Gaza targets over 600 times.

Earlier Thursday, Israel's civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport, as air raid warnings once more went off across Israel.

International carriers were meanwhile cancelling flights to Israel.

Spokespeople for United Airlines and American Airlines told AFP their flights from the US to Israel had been cancelled "through May 15".

In Gaza, 83 people were reported killed since Monday, with seven killed on the Israeli side.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a "massive reinforcement" of security forces to help contain deadly internal unrest that has rocked mixed Jewish and Arab communities across the country. 

"We are in an emergency situation due to the national violence and it is now necessary to have a massive reinforcement of forces on the ground, and they are to be sent immediately to enforce law and order," he said. 

He specified the forces would be reservists from Israel's border police, a force that largely operates in the occupied West Bank. 

World powers call for de-escalation

Calls grew on Wednesday for a de-escalation of violence after intense hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians that have left at least 72 dead and hundreds injured.

The Israeli army has launched hundreds of air strikes on the Gaza Strip since Monday, while Palestinian militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets in some of the worst violence in seven years.

Calls for calm emerged from around the world, while others voiced support for the warring parties. Here is a roundup of reactions: 

- United States -

US President Joe Biden said that after speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "my expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later".

"But Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory," he added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier "reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence".

Blinken also renewed US support for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.

"This violence takes us further away from that goal," he said.

The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, and backed Israel's "legitimate right to defend itself and its people" while also urging steps to restore calm.

- UN -

The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting on Wednesday, but again failed to agree on a joint statement due to opposition from the US.

However in a sign of frustration, four Council members -- Norway, Estonia, France and Ireland -- issued their own joint statement.

"The large numbers of civilian casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza, are both worrying and unacceptable," it said.

"We call on Israel to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in East Jerusalem," they wrote.

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland had warned the meeting that the "situation has deteriorated since Monday... there is a risk of a spiral of violence," according to a diplomatic source.

- Russia, Turkey -

President Vladimir Putin urged Israel and the Palestinians to halt fighting in a call with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the world needed to give Israel a "strong" lesson.

"Serious concern was expressed about the continuing clashes and the growing number of people killed and wounded," the Kremlin said in a statement. 

Putin had "called on the parties to de-escalate tensions and peacefully resolve the emerging issues", it added.

- Britain - 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Israel and the Palestinians to "step back from the brink", calling for both sides to "show restraint".

"The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions," he said on Twitter. 

- EU -

After speaking with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, European Council chief Charles Michel called on Israelis and Palestinians to focus on "de-escalation and prevention of the loss of innocent civilian lives on both sides".

A statement from the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the "indiscriminate launching of rockets from Hamas and other groups towards Israeli civilians is unacceptable".

Although he affirmed Israeli's "legitimate need to protect its civilian population," Borrell stressed that the response "needs to be proportionate" and that "everything must be done to prevent a broader conflict".

- ICC -

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court expressed concern that "crimes" might have been committed. 

"I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute," which founded the ICC, Fatou Bensouda said on Twitter.

- OIC -

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned Israel and reiterated support for Palestinians.

The pan-Islamic body based in the Saudi city of Jeddah said "condemns in the strongest terms the repeated attacks by the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people", in a statement released Tuesday after an emergency session.

It also denounced "the Israeli occupation forces' continuation of their colonial programmes -- building settlements, attempting to confiscate Palestinian properties, forceful eviction of Palestinians from their land".