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Israel-Gaza Death toll climbs as France proposes ceasefire

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Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on Tuesday evening. AFP

Israel-Gaza Death toll climbs as France proposes ceasefire

Heavy air strikes and rocket fire in the Israel-Gaza conflict claimed more lives on both sides May 18 as calls intensified for an end to the bloodshed.

A UN Security Council meeting broke up without issuing a statement, but France then said it had proposed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, in coordination with Israel’s neighbours Egypt and Jordan.

Zhang Jun, Beijing’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters his team had heard the French ceasefire proposal and China was “supportive”.

Sporadic bombardment of Gaza city continued after midnight, with residents kept awake as Israeli jets flew low overhead, an AFP correspondent in the besieged coastal strip said.

Earlier in the evening, an AFP photographer saw streaks of light in the sky as Israel’s air defence system intercepted rockets launched from Gaza.

Israeli forces and protesters meanwhile clashed at multiple flashpoints across the occupied West Bank and in east Jerusalem, hospitalising scores, as Palestinians rallied in solidarity with their besieged Gazan counterparts.

Dozens were treated for wounds caused by live bullets, medics said.

Israeli air strikes have killed 217 Palestinians, including 63 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in just over a week in the Hamas-run enclave, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

The death toll on the Israeli side has risen to 12 after rockets Hamas fired at the southern Eshkol region killed two Thai nationals working in a factory, police said.

Hamas has launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, often forcing people living by Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.

Israel’s near-relentless bombing campaign in response has sent fireballs, debris and black smoke into the sky, leaving two million Palestinians in Gaza desperate for reprieve.

The humanitarian crisis has deepened in the impoverished strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

But a convoy of international aid trucks that started rolling into Gaza through a border crossing from Israel, Kerem Shalom, was halted when Israel quickly shuttered it again, citing a mortar attack on the area.

May 18’s UN Security Council session, the fourth since the conflict escalated, was called after the US, a key Israel ally, had once again blocked adoption of a joint statement calling for a halt to the violence the previous day.

“We do not judge that a public pronouncement right now will help de-escalate,” US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during May 18’s closed-door meeting, according to a diplomat.

France and Egypt have been pushing for a ceasefire deal, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on May 18 backed the manifold calls for one.

He also urged Israel’s military to act in a “proportionate” manner.

Israel says fighter jets have hit Hamas’s underground tunnels, which it has previously acknowledged run in part through civilian areas.

A strike on May 17 knocked out Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing laboratory, the health ministry said, and the Qatari Red Crescent said a strike damaged one of its offices.

Hospitals in the territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for almost 15 years, have been overwhelmed by patients and there are frequent blackouts.

Speaking at an air force base in Israel’s south, Netanyahu said Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the second biggest armed group in Gaza, had “received blows they didn’t expect”.

“We’ll continue as long as necessary to bring … quiet back to the citizens of Israel,” he added.

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