Israel Gaza violence: US envoy arrives for de-escalation talks

Smoke and flames rise during Israeli air strikes, in Gaza city

Reuters

A US envoy has arrived in Tel Aviv for de-escalation talks as unrest between Israel and the Palestinians continue.

Hady Amr will take part in talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN officials in the hope of agreeing on a ceasefire.

Early on Saturday, Israel conducted air strikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants responded by firing rockets into Israel.

The clashes recorded over the past five days marks some of the worst violence in the region in years.

The conflict began on Monday and followed weeks of spiralling Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem. The increased hostilities culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas – the militant Islamist group which rules Gaza – began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

At least 133 people have been killed in Gaza and eight have died in Israel since the fighting began.

Palestinian health ministry officials said an Israeli air strike early on Saturday killed at least seven Palestinians, including women and children, at a refugee camp west of Gaza City.

Militants in Gaza responded with rockets targeting the Israeli city of Beersheba.

On Friday, clashes spread to the West Bank, with at least 10 Palestinians killed and hundreds injured. Israeli forces used teargas, rubber bullets and live fire, as Palestinians threw petrol bombs.

The site of destroyed houses in the northern Gaza strip

Getty Images

Mr Amr’s arrival comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Sunday. The US embassy in Israel said the aim of his trip was to “reinforce the need to work toward a sustainable calm”.

But appeals to Israeli and Palestinian leaders have so far failed to produce a ceasefire agreement.

Israel’s air strikes on Hamas in Gaza has forced the Middle East onto President Joe Biden’s agenda. The Biden administration has had to rapidly step up its game on the diplomatic front without a full team in place: there is not even a nominee yet for ambassador to Israel.

Mr Amr is a mid-level diplomat without the kind of rank held by special envoys in previous US administrations, the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher says.

On Thursday, Israel’s military called up 7,000 army reservists and deployed troops and tanks near its border with Gaza. It said a ground offensive into Gaza was one option being considered but a decision had yet to be made.

An estimated 10,000 Palestinians have left their homes in Gaza since Monday because of the conflict, according to the United Nations.

Map showing Israel and the Gaza Strip

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Analysis box by Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor

‘Both sides need to be able to say they’ve won’

The end games in the wars between Hamas and Israel have followed a pattern since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Foreign mediators have thrashed out a variety of ceasefires. That’s what the Americans, Egyptians, the UN and others are trying to do now.

For that to work, both sides need to be able to tell their people they’ve won.

Hamas will want to say that it is the real protector of Palestinian rights, not just in Gaza but also in the occupied West Bank including Jerusalem.

Israel will want to show its people that it has done serious damage to the Hamas infrastructure. A much used phrase is ‘restore deterrence.’ That means showing their enemies that hitting Israel will only bring pain and suffering.

Both sides will struggle to find words for bereaved families or traumatised children.

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What caused the violence?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem.

The site is revered by both Muslims, who call it the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and Jews, for whom it is known as the Temple Mount. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. Hamas launched rockets when its ultimatum went unheeded.

Palestinian anger had already been stoked by weeks of rising tension in East Jerusalem, inflamed by a series of confrontations with police since the start of Ramadan in mid-April.

Map showing key holy sites in Jerusalem

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It was further fuelled by Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, known as Jerusalem Day.

The fate of the city, with its deep religious and national significance to both sides, lies at the heart of the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel in effect annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of other countries.

Palestinians claim the eastern half of Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for state of their own.