International efforts to de-escalate the biggest military confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants in seven years intensified on Sunday as fighting continued unabated.
The UN Security Council, chaired by China, convened in New York as Egypt and Qatar sought to broker a short ceasefire to get fuel for Gaza’s only power plant into the Mediterranean enclave, two western diplomats told the Financial Times.
Gaza’s 2m residents have been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007, when Hamas won the elections. It will run out of fuel by Monday at the latest, an Israeli official estimated.
“Fighting must stop. It must stop. Rockets and mortars on one side, aerial bombardment on the other must stop,” said António Guterres, UN secretary-general, at the start of the Security Council meeting.
The bombings have continued for a seventh day. Israel’s military said it had struck the homes of Hamas leader Yahyeh Sinwar and his brother. The strike is complicating mediation efforts, an Egyptian diplomat briefed on the talks told the FT: “It raises the temperatures significantly.”
Sinwar was released from an Israeli prison in 2011 during a prisoner exchange and has since risen to the top of Hamas’s leadership. An Israeli official described him as “the biggest threat” to Israel from Gaza.
Hamas fired homemade rockets at Tel Aviv at around midnight on Saturday and at towns near the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning.
The death toll in Gaza stood at 181, including 83 women and children, Gaza health officials said.
Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
Israel was also due to hold a security cabinet meeting to discuss Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce, according to an Israeli government aide. The military wants the Islamist group to return the bodies of two soldiers. Also at stake is the fate of two Israeli civilians held in Gaza, the aide said.
“We are still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night.
Netanyahu defended the biggest military campaign against Hamas since Israel’s 2014 conflict with the Islamist group as a “just and moral war.” He added: “We are doing everything, but everything, to avoid or limit as much as possible harming civilians.”
Netanyahu’s comments came after Israel destroyed the al-Jalaa residential and office block that hosted US news agency Associated Press and Qatari television network Al Jazeera. The bombing raised “concerns about the safety and security of journalists” and “reinforced the need to ensure their protection”, US president Joe Biden told Netanyahu in a phone call on Saturday, according to the White House.
“In recent years . . . the UN Security Council resolutions have not been earnestly implemented and, in particular, the Palestinian right to build an independent state has been continuously violated,” Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, was quoted as saying by Chinese state media.
In the occupied West Bank, which was relatively quiet until Israeli security forces killed 11 Palestinians on Friday, Arab protesters burned tires and threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers during night protests. Two Palestinians were killed overnight, including one shot by Israeli forces in the abdomen.
The territory, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war, is the seat of Fatah, Hamas’s rival Palestinian faction, and is home to about 650,000 Jewish settlers, including at least 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
Israel is also seeking to quell riots pitting Jews and Arabs across the country, arresting nearly 900 people.
Israeli Arabs account for about one-fifth of the Jewish state’s population, carry Israeli passports and have the right to vote, but they say they suffer discrimination.
The crisis erupted when police used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against Palestinian protesters in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. More than 600 Palestinians were wounded.
The al-Aqsa mosque lies in a compound — known to Muslims as the Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount — that is sacred to both religions. Hamas has fired more than 2,500 rockets into Israel since Monday.
Additional reporting by Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong