Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli PM Netanyahu vows to keep using ‘full force’ as airstrike death toll reaches 42

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country’s military campaign in Gaza will continue with “full force”, as 42 people are reported to have died in an airstrike early on Sunday that flattened three buildings.

The most deadly single Israeli attack of the week-long conflict brings the number who have died in the Palestinian territory since the fighting erupted last Monday to 192, including 58 children.

Ten people in Israel have been killed, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier, as militants fired rockets from Gaza and some got through its ‘Iron Dome’ air defence system.

The PM’s comments come as the UN Security Council met to discuss the violence, with the UN’s secretary general Antonio Guterres calling for an immediate end to the violence.

Mr Netanyahu said in a televised speech: “Our campaign against the terrorist organisations is continuing with full force. We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time.”

Gaza health officials said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed in the airstrike on Sunday that destroyed several homes.

Israel’s military said the deaths were “unintentional” and it had been targeting a militant tunnel system which collapsed, causing homes to collapse as well.

Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad say 20 fighters have been killed since the violence broke out – but Israel claimed the real number was far higher as it released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it said were “eliminated”.

Opening a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the ongoing conflict, the organisation’s secretary general Antonio Guterres said the hostilities were “utterly appalling” and the fighting must stop immediately.

He said “the United Nations is actively engaging all sides towards an immediate ceasefire” but warned that the violence in Gaza “only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace”.

The organisation’s peace envoy Tor Wennesland called on the international community to “take action now to enable the parties to step back from the brink”.

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Palestinian and Israeli representatives went next, followed by other ambassadors and foreign ministers.

Also, Jordan’s King Abdullah has said his kingdom was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt the violence.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al Malki told the Security Council that “there are no words that can describe the horrors that our people are enduring,” listing families and children killed by Israeli airstrikes.

“Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza, one family at a time,” he said. “Israel is trying to uproot Palestinians from Jerusalem. It’s expelling families, one home, neighbourhood at a time. Israel is executing our people, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

He added: “Each time Israel hears a foreign leader speak of its right to defend itself it is further emboldened to continue murdering entire families in their sleep.”

Mr Malki’s Palestinian Authority has no control over Hamas and the Gaza Strip, where the militants seized power in 2007.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel’s response to indiscriminate attacks by Hamas strictly adhered to international law and that the country was taking “unparalleled steps to prevent civilian casualties”.

He said: “Israel uses its missiles to protect its children. Hamas uses children to protect its missiles.”

The meeting was taking place as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned antisemitism after the Met Police said it was investigating a video appearing to show racist language being shouted from a convoy of cars in the St John’s Wood area of London on Sunday.

Mr Johnson tweeted: “There is no place for antisemitism in our society. Ahead of Shavuot, I stand with Britain’s Jews who should not have to endure the type of shameful racism we have seen today.”

Later, officers said four men had been arrested over the incident.

Analysis: Neither side seem in the mood to stop the violence

By Dominic Waghorn, diplomatic editor

This is the third UN Security Council meeting in a week, and a UN General Assembly meeting is likely soon too, as well as plenty of US and European diplomacy.

But until both Israel and Hamas want to stop fighting, all this is unlikely to achieve much. Even behind closed doors, the Security Council was unable to reach agreement on action last week.

With the cameras on, this latest gathering was never likely to be more successful, for all the posturing and grandstanding instead.

We are used to Russia blocking progress at the UN, normally over Syria and being lambasted for it by the US. This time it is the other way around.

Fourteen member states wanted a fairly innocuous press statement issued last week calling for an end to hostilities. America alone blocked it.

America is taking its cue from Israel, and Israel seems to be saying they need more time.

Israelis refer to it as mowing the grass. Taking action to reduce the threat from Hamas at regular intervals. That threat has grown. Hamas has managed to fire almost 3,000 missiles in a week.

Israel’s military is now making the most of this window of opportunity to neutralise Hamas’ capability. It will have an eye on its northern border too, wanting to send a stern message to the Shia militia Hezbollah, not to try the same.

Hamas may also not want the conflict to end quite yet. It is posing as the champion of Jerusalem and Palestinian rights there. That will increase its political power and ability to recruit and radicalise.

Egypt is acting as mediator and warning that Israel’s targeting of Hamas leaders is not helping its efforts to broker a ceasefire.

For all the talk and handwringing in New York and elsewhere this week, military priorities are likely to dictate progress towards a cessation in violence and for now neither side seem in the mood.

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