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Nearly entire EU bloc calls for Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire

Hamas militants parade through Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip during an anti-Israel rally on May 28. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- The European Union on Tuesday called for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has claimed more than 200 lives.

All but one member of the 27-state bloc -- Hungary -- joined the call for an end to the fighting that started May 10. The EU also condemned Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel, saying that the militant group should defend itself in a "proportional manner."

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"The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a cease-fire," said Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs.

Unnamed Israeli political officials told Israeli news outlet Haaretz they expect the military operation in Gaza to be over "within days."

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The Gaza Health Ministry said Tuesday that at least 212 Palestinians have died, including 61 children. Another 16 have died in the West Bank. Hamas rockets have meanwhile killed 12 people, including two children, in Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians went on strike in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday to protest violence against Arab Israelis. The New York Times reported that shops in Jaffa were shuttered, Arab neighborhoods throughout the region were deserted and demonstrators gathered to denounce Israeli policies.

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The United Nations Security Council was expected to convene Tuesday to discuss the fighting.

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Norway said it would raise the issue of the ongoing conflict, which has entered its second week, alongside Tunisia and China at the U.N. Security Council meeting, stating the situation on the ground "continues to deteriorate."

"Innocent civilians continue being killed and injured," Norway's mission to the United Nations said in a statement. "We repeat: Stop the fire. End hostilities now."

The United Nations most recently convened over the weekend to discuss the fighting that erupted on May 10 but failed to produce a resolution for a third time, with China holding the United States responsible for the foreign ministers being unable "to speak with one voice."

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The Biden administration is coming under increasing pressure at home and from abroad to condemn its ally Israel's nightly airstrikes into the Gaza Strip, a self-governing Palestinian territory along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

President Joe Biden said Monday he supports a cease-fire but White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Biden thinks it's best not to debate an international conflict in public.

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Overnight, 62 Israeli fighter jets continued to bombard Hamas' tunnel system, hitting 65 targets with 110 guided munitions, the Israeli Air Force said. Israel's military has been targeting the so-called Hamas Metro for days, announcing Monday that it had "neutralized" 9.3 miles of it.

A Hamas anti-tank squad in Gaza City and the residences of five Hamas commanders in the strip were also hit, the air force said.

The military also struck launch sites in Lebanon that were behind six rockets fired toward northern Israel overnight, none of which made it over the border. Tuesday morning, the military also downed a drone that approached the Israeli border near the Jordan Valley.

"The UAV fragments were collected by security forces," the IAF said of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

In Israel, sirens blared overnight and into the morning as some 90 rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel were intercepted by air defense fighters, with about 20 of them falling back into the Palestinian territory.

Israeli has been hammering Gaza since the night of May 10 when it launched Operation Guardian of the Walls in retaliation to Hamas launching rockets at its territory, as tensions escalated over Israel's plan to evict eight Palestinian families from East Jerusalem.

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The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Occupied Palestinian Territory said more than 38,000 Palestinians have sought protection in its 48 U.N. schools and more than 2,500 people have been made homeless by the destruction of their homes.

The health ministry has accused Israel of targeting health facilities and Monday called on the international community to protect them in Gaza and to offer "critically needed" personal protection equipment to shelters to stymie the spread of the coronavirus.

"This targeting of medical institutions is a war crime," the ministry said, stating its headquarters had been targeted.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its Qatari organization in Gaza was "severely damaged" Monday afternoon due to Israeli shelling of a commercial building in Gaza City.

Later Monday, it reported that a number of civilian properties, education buildings and health facilities had been damaged.

"Under humanitarian law, civilians and civilian objects should be spared in the conduct of military operations," it said via Twitter.



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The Israeli military consistently states it does not target civilians and provides a warning to those in buildings they plan to attack. It also accuses of Hamas continuing to place military targets in residential areas to use Palestinians as human shields.

Israel has tallied some 3,350 rockets fired at it from Gaza since May 10, 90% of which have been intercepted by its Iron Dome Air Defense System, resulting in damages including the deaths of at least 10 people.

In the United States, President Joe Biden on Monday voiced support for a cease-fire but did not call on Israel to halt airstrikes, while reaffirming its right to self-defense.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Denmark on Monday, told reporters during a press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod that the United States is working "behind the scenes" to end the conflict, having spoken to his counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others.

Blinken said Israel has the right to defend its self against a terrorist group but added that, as a democracy, it has "an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties even as it defends itself and its people."

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"We'll continue to conduct intensive diplomacy to bring this current cycle of violence to an end," he said. "Then we will immediately resume the work, the vital work of making real the vision of Israel and a Palestinian state existing peacefully, side by side, with people from all communities able to live in dignity."

Achieving a cease-fire, he said, is ultimately a decision that is up to both parties.

"Any cease-fire would be, by definition between them but we are ready to engage in support of," he said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told residents in a Monday night speech that the military will continue to strike terrorist targets.

"We will continue to operate as long as needed to restore quiet and security to all Israelis," he said.

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