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Calls Grow for Ceasefire Between Israel, Hamas As Death Toll Rises

People inspect the rubble of a destroyed residential building that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
People inspect the rubble of a destroyed residential building that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Monday as terrorists continued to fire rockets at Israeli civilians.

Monday’s attacks have rocked the coastal enclave from north to south. The Israeli military said the assaults were targeting the homes of nine Hamas commanders and underground tunnels. “The houses attacked were used as terrorist infrastructure and in some of the houses, weapons depots were even found,” the army says.

Meanwhile, Hamas continued firing rockets from civilian areas in the Gaza Strip at civilians in Israel. One rocket landed on a synagogue in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Sunday, hours before the religious holiday of Shavuot began. There were no reported injuries.

Israeli security forces inspect a synagogue that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, Israel, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Earlier on Sunday, an Israeli airstrike flattened several buildings in Gaza, burying dozens under piles of rubble. At least 42 Palestinians, including a 1-year-old baby and a 3-year-old child, were killed in that attack, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said. Israel said the strike was targeting Hamas’ “underground military infrastructure” located beneath civilian homes.

As a result of the strike, “the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses' foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

 A Palestinian man carries a deceased child taken out of the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Israel is entering the second week of its fourth war with the Hamas terror group. The fighting began last Monday after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem in response to clashes at Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Terrorists in Gaza have launched some 3,100 rockets at Israelis in just one week, marking some of the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.

Israel's airstrikes have leveled several high-rise buildings in Gaza City, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was a building housing the office of multiple major media outlets like The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged the International Criminal Court on Sunday to investigate the incident as a potential war crime. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS’ “Face the Nation” it was a “perfectly legitimate target.”

The Israeli military said on Sunday it also destroyed the home of  Hamas’ top leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in the southern town of Khan Younis.

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This latest round of violence has killed at least 188 Palestinians and wounded 1,230 others. At least eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.

Israel says it does not target civilians and that most of the dead were terrorists or killed by errant rockets that accidentally fell in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says it uses a tactic called “roof knocking” where they hit a building with a device to warn people to leave a building that will be targeted. They also call or text the people to get out of harm’s way.    

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told AP, "We are committed to international law of armed conflict and we aspire to minimize collateral damage. However, it is clear - and anybody who has been to Gaza knows - that it is almost impossible to surgically differentiate between terrorists and their infrastructure and civilians, which are used by the terrorists as their human shields in every aspect," he said. "But I can tell you that we are doing our maximal effort to strike only military targets."

An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in the Gaza Strip, at the Israeli-Gaza border, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)

A spokesman for Israel’s National Police also told CBN News Hamas leaders often travel with their families during times of conflict in order to shield themselves from the Israeli military. 

The turmoil also comes amid what Israeli leaders have called a bloody “civil war between Israel and the country’s Arab citizens. Both Jews and Arabs have been perpetrators and victims of violent attacks against each other.

Calls are growing from the US and other members of the international community for an immediate end to the fighting.

Senate Republicans and Democrats issued a joint statement calling for a ceasefire.

“Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas’s rocket attacks, in a manner proportionate with the threat its citizens are facing,” the statement said. “As a result of Hamas’s rocket attacks and Israel’s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further. We are encouraged by reports that the parties are exploring a ceasefire. We hope that this ceasefire can be reached quickly and that additional steps can be taken to preserve a two-state future.”

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on Twitter that he will be traveling to Israel to "assess what they need to protect their national security, which is closely tied to America's national security.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also issued a statement urging the “cessation of all violence and hostilities.”

The Egyptian leader, whose government has long been involved in brokering ceasefires between Hamas and Israel, says his country is working to broker a ceasefire. 

US President Joe Biden gave no signs of stepping up public pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas. Instead, he has repeatedly hailed Israel’s “right to defend itself.” The US has blocked efforts by China, Norway, and Tunisia to get the UN Security Council to issue a statement calling for an end to the hostilities. The US is reportedly concerned that such a statement could interfere with diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed.

In the meantime, both Israel and Hamas have vowed to continue the fighting.

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