Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several others.
The latest strikes came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against U.S. pressure to wind down the offensive against Gaza”s militant Hamas rulers, who have fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
Explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the night sky, with airstrikes also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah and the southern town of Khan Younis. As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. There were also heavy airstrikes on al-Saftawi Street, a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it struck at least four homes of Hamas commanders, targeting “military infrastructure,” as well as a weapons storage unit at the home of a Hamas fighter in Gaza City.
An Israeli airstrike smashed into the Khawaldi family’s two-story house in Khan Younis, destroying it. The 11 residents, who were sleeping in a separate area out of fear, were all wounded and hospitalised, said Shaker al-Khozondar, a neighbour.
Shrapnel hit his family home next door, killing Hoda al-Khozondar, his aunt, and wounding her daughter and two cousins, he said. Weam Fares, a spokesman for a nearby hospital, confirmed her death and said at least 10 people were wounded in strikes overnight.
Netanyahu has pushed back against calls from the Biden administration to wrap up the operation that has left hundreds dead. It marks the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began last week and could complicate international efforts to reach a cease-fire. His pushback also poses a difficult early test of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
After visiting military headquarters, Netanyahu said Wednesday he appreciated “the support of the American president,” but that Israel would push ahead to return “calm and security” to its citizens. He said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
U.S. President Joe Biden had earlier told Netanyahu that he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” the White House said.
Biden had previously avoided pressing Israel more directly and publicly for a cease-fire with Gaza’s Hamas militant rulers. But pressure has been building for Biden to intervene more forcefully as other diplomatic efforts gather strength.
Egyptian negotiators have also been working to halt the fighting, and an Egyptian diplomat said top officials were waiting for Israel’s response to a cease-fire offer. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official, told the Lebanese Mayadeen TV that he expected a cease-fire in a day or two.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was expected in the region Thursday for talks with Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the foreign ministers of Slovakia and the Czech Republic would join him after being invited “to express their solidarity and support” for Israel.
The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began May 10, when the militant group fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
Since then, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network it refers to as the “Metro.” Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted or landing in open areas.
At least 227 Palestinians have been killed, including 64 children and 38 women, with 1,620 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 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed.
Since the fighting began, Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated. Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized power in 2007.
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 have run out.
The fighting, the worst since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, has ignited protests around the world.