A Palestinian family waits for medical help inside an ambulance in Beit Lahia on the Gaza strip on May 5, 2019. Photo: AFP/Anas Baba

Israeli strikes pounded the crowded streets of Gaza City on Sunday even as the narrow strip of territory prepared for the holy month of Ramadan. A tentative ceasefire was reported on Monday, but the ongoing tendency towards the use of air power and rockets has raised fears of a new war.

Twenty-five Palestinians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, as well as two infants and a child, were killed by Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip from Friday through of Monday morning, Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told Asia Times. He said that more than 300 others were wounded, a number of them critically. 

Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip killed four Israelis, according to Israeli newspapers.

Gazans fear that this new escalation could mark the start of night and day Israeli bombings, as happened in the war of 2014. That conflict lasted 51 days, killing and wounding thousands of people and destroying thousands of housing units and industrial facilities.

Demonstration deaths

The fresh escalation broke out as the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, sought additional concessions from Israel within the framework of a ceasefire.

In recent weeks, Hamas had deescalated demonstrations at the border with Israel, keeping protesters far from the militarized buffer and curtailing the march that used to mobilize residents from across Gaza every Tuesday. They had also halted the sending of burning kites toward occupied Palestinian lands.

These measures came on the back of diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations – all of whom have sent delegations to Gaza in recent months – to mediate between authorities in Gaza and in Israel. The objective is to reach a sustainable understanding that will soften the siege on the strip, in return for an end to Palestinian protests near the borders.

But the situation deteriorated last Friday. Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians during the weekly demonstration on the border, while others were wounded, adding to the already desperate levels of frustration and an ongoing medical crisis

Two other Palestinians were killed in an air strike launched by the Israeli air force against the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. 

The Israeli army said the shelling came in response to the launch of about 200 rockets from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, and they have continued to shell land, sea and air since dawn on Saturday in various parts of the besieged strip.

Palestinian factions in Gaza have threatened a “broader response” to Israel if they continue to raid the narrow strip. 

Palestinian cyclist Alaa al-Daly, who lost his leg to a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in March, stands next to his bicycle at his home in Rafah, Gaza, on April 23. Photo: Ali Jadallah / Anadolu

Right to peace

The Gaza Strip has periodically witnessed the launching of homemade rockets against Israel by the Palestinian resistance and its various factions, despite the difficulty of accessing the information and materials required in the manufacturing process.

During this latest escalation, the Quds Brigades — the military wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza — revealed a new missile called “Badr 3”.

Since Saturday, Israeli air strikes have leveled a number of apartments, creating a new group of homeless. They have also targeted press and cultural institutions, including Turkey’s Anatolia News Agency and the Abdullah al-Hourani Center for Studies and Documentation, which is run by the PLO.

Hamas senior official Izzat al-Rishq said in a brief statement on his Twitter account that the Israeli actions “will not bring her stability”. The movement said the attacks on residential buildings amounted to war crimes. 

“Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace, security and dignity,” an EU spokeswoman said in an official statement. “Only a political solution can end violence.”

Ahmed al-Deek, political adviser to the Palestinian foreign minister, said in an interview with Al-Ghad TV channel that there are contacts to discuss the possibility of holding an emergency session of the UN Security Council to compel Israel to halt the escalation.

Talks between Egyptian intelligence officials and representatives of Palestinian factions continue in Cairo.

Since the start of the clashes, Israeli authorities have closed the crossings to the strip and prevented fishermen from entering the sea, to which their access is already severely restricted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency security meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv to discuss security developments.

Relatives at the funeral of Israeli Moshe Agadi in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon on May 5, 2019. – Father of four Agadi, 58,, was outside his home when a rocket hit. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP

Gaza is just 6 kilometers wide at its narrowest point and 11 km at its widest. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea, to the east is a 50 km border with Israel. Its only other neighbor, Egypt, has a peace treaty with Israel and severely restricts the movement of people and goods through the southern Rafah crossing.

The near-total blockade hampers even the most basic infrastructure repairs, meaning sewage, water and electrical systems range from decrepit to non-functioning. In effect, Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants have lived in an open-air prison since the Islamist movement Hamas took control of the strip in 2007 after winning legislative elections a year earlier.

Gazans began their Ramadan on Monday in one of the worst economic situations to date, with unemployment at more than 50% and the majority of residents dependent on aid from UNRWA.

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