U.S. calls for peace as Israel kills Palestinian militant commander

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Israel killed a senior Palestinian militant commander in heavy air strikes on Gaza on Monday and Islamist groups renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire.

As the fiercest hostilities in the region in years entered a second week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged all sides to protect civilians and said Washington was working intensively behind the scenes to halt the conflict.

Gaza health officials put the Palestinian death toll since the hostilities flared last week at 201, including 58 children and 34 women.

Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children. Police said an Israeli man also died in hospital on Monday after being attacked and injured in Lod last week by Arab rioters as clashes broke out in mixed Jewish-Arab communities in Israel, police said.

The killing of Hussam Abu Harbeed, Islamic Jihad’s armed commander for north Gaza, was likely to draw a fierce response from the militant group that is fighting alongside Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs the coastal enclave.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Harbeed had been “behind several anti-tank missile terror attacks against Israeli civilians”, and an Israeli general said his country could carry on the fight “forever”.

Militant groups in Gaza also gave no sign that an end to fighting was imminent. Soon after Harbeed’s death, Islamic Jihad said it had fired rockets at the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, and Israeli police said three people had been slightly hurt.

At least three Palestinians were also killed by an Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City on Monday, medics said, after a night of heavy Israeli air strikes. Israel’s military said Gaza militants had fired about 60 rockets towards Israeli cities overnight, down from 120 and 200 the two previous nights.

Another Palestinian was killed in an aerial attack on the town of Jabalya, medics said.

“My children couldn’t sleep all night even after the wave of intensive bombing stopped,” said Umm Naeem, 50, a mother of five, as she shopped for bread in Gaza City after the latest Israeli air strikes. “What is happening to us is too much, but Jerusalem deserves all the sacrifices.”

Israel bombed what its military said was 15 km (nine miles) of underground tunnels used by Hamas after Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. Nine residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders in Gaza were also hit, it said.

“We have to continue the war until there is long-term ceasefire – (one) that is not temporary,” Osher Bugam, a resident of the Israel coastal city of Ashkelon, said after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a synagogue there.

REUTERS