UN Security Council to meet amid escalating Israel-Palestine conflict

The UN Security Council will hold an urgent meeting on Wednesday over the escalating conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, which has left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza, May 11, 2021. /Reuters via CGTN

The closed-door meeting has been requested by Tunisia, Norway and China. The first, held on Monday, ended without a joint statement, with the United States expressing reluctance to adopt a draft statement proposed by Norway to "cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions" including in east Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the escalation must stop.

"Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force," he said in a statement, adding that "the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centers is unacceptable."

Dozens dead as Israel and Hamas escalate aerial bombardments

Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas escalated on Tuesday, raising the death toll in two days to 32 Palestinians and three people in Israel, with Israel carrying out multiple airstrikes in Gaza and the militant group firing rockets at Tel Aviv.

Hamas said Wednesday they had fired more than 200 rockets into Israel, in retaliation for strikes on a 13-story tower block in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza, which they control.

They were the most intensive aerial exchanges between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war in Gaza and prompted international concern that the situation could spiral out of control.

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 11, 2021. /Reuters via CGTN

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland tweeted: "Stop the fire immediately. We're escalating towards full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take responsibility for de-escalation.

"The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working with all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now," he wrote.

The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed - court hearing in a case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from East Jerusalem homes claimed by Jewish settlers.

A building was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City, May 11, 2021. /Reuters via CGTN

A tit-for-tat future?

There appeared no immediate end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a "very heavy" price for the rockets, which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday during a holiday in Israel commemorating its capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

"We are at the height of a weighty campaign," said Netanyahu, adding that "Hamas and Islamic Jihad paid and will pay a very heavy price for their belligerence."

Hamas said it was up to Israel to make the first move. The militant group's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel had "ignited a fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences."

Haniyeh said that Qatar, Egypt, and the United Nations had been in contact urging calm but that Hamas's message to Israel was: "If they want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready."

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all sides to step back and reminded them of the requirement in international law to try to avoid civilian casualties.

(With input from Reuters, AFP)