Israel-Gaza: More than 2,000 homes destroyed during bombardment, Palestinian official says

Liam James

The Independent  /  May 22, 2021

UN urges both sides to observe ceasefire as thousands march in London.

At least 2,000 housing units were destroyed in Gaza during the fighting between Israeli and Palestinian militant groups, a Gaza official said on Saturday.

The United Nations Security Council called for “full adherence” to the ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas – the militant group that controls Gaza – and stressed the immediate need for humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.

During a tour of the battered Palestinian territory in the wake of the 11-day war with Israel, the UN’s top aid official in the region appealed to both sides not to make any “provocative moves”.

Meanwhile, mediators from Egypt, which brokered the agreement between the Israeli government and Hamas, met to continue talks on firming up the ceasefire with the aim of securing long-term calm. At least 260 people died because of the fighting.

Naji Sarhan, an official at Gaza’s public works and housing ministry, said hostilities had led to the destruction of at least 2,000 housing units, with more than 15,000 other units also damaged.

Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes on the overcrowded strip, targeting residential, commercial and government buildings. Officials said they were aiming at targets where militant offices and resources were located. Meanwhile, Hamas and other militants launched some 4,000 rockets towards Israel, though most were intercepted and some fell short.

Mr Sarhan told the Associated Press that four mosques in Gaza were destroyed along with dozens of police offices. He said most of the factories in Gaza’s industrial zone were destroyed or damaged.

In Gaza City’s busiest commercial area, Omar al-Mukhtar Street, the road was covered in debris, smashed cars and twisted metal after a 13-floor building in its centre was flattened in an Israeli airstrike.

Gaza has estimated the financial losses incurred from the fighting at $150m (£106m) but Mr Sarhan said assessment of the cost was still continuing.

At least 248 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. In Israel, 12 people, including two children, were killed, medics said.

An Egyptian diplomat said on Saturday that two teams of mediators were in Israel and the Palestinian territories to continue talks on the ceasefire. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met with mediators to discuss internal political matters and the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, toured rubble-strewn parts of Gaza on Saturday and appealed to both sides to observe the terms of the ceasefire.

“Last night was calm, and we hope obviously that it is going to hold and everybody just needs to stand down and not to engage in any provocative moves,” Ms Hastings said.

She also met with Palestinian families, some of whom had lost relatives, and said they were despondent. “What they all said is that they have no hope; they feel that they have no control of their lives and their situation is, one woman said, helpless,” she told Reuters.

Also on Saturday the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, made his first public appearance since the outbreak of hostilities while paying his respects to a Hamas commander killed during the fighting. Mr Sinwar’s own home had been targeted by Israel along with those of other senior Hamas figures.

In the UK, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters, from groups including the National Education Union, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition, marched in London and other cities against Israel’s bombing campaign in the conflict.

Protesters called for sanctions on Israel and chants of “Israel is a terrorist state” and “We are all Palestinians” were heard in the capital.

As the crowd reached Downing Street, chants of “Boris Johnson, shame on you” rang out. During the fighting, the UK government condemned “acts of terrorism by Hamas” and said Israel had a “legitimate right to defend itself”.

Meanwhile, research seen by The Independent suggests British-made military components and hardware were used by Israeli forces carrying out airstrikes on Gaza.

Liam Jones – picture editor

Additional reporting by agencies