By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Stephen Farrell
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel bombarded Gaza with air strikes and Palestinian militants resumed cross-border rocket fire on Tuesday after a brief overnight lull during which the U.N. sent a small fuel convoy into the enclave, where it says 52,000 people are now displaced.
Israeli leaders said they were pressing on with an offensive to destroy the capabilities of the armed factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad, amid calls by the United States and other world powers for an end to the conflict.
Two Thai workers were killed and seven people were wounded in a rocket strike on an Israeli farm just over the Gaza border, police said. Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamist group and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Rockets were also launched at the cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, further to the north.
Gaza residents said Israel was keeping up intense air strikes. Witnesses said an Israeli tank shell hit a paint factory in the southern Gaza Strip, setting it on fire.
“The fighting will not cease until we bring total and long-term quiet,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in a video statement, blaming Hamas for the worst escalation in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years.
Hamas began firing rockets eight days ago in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Gaza medical officials say 213 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children and 36 women, and more than 1,400 wounded. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.
Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary care health centres, the United Nations humanitarian agency said. Some 47,000 of the 52,000 displaced had fled to U.N. schools.
Israel said more than 3,450 rockets have been launched at it from Gaza, some falling short and others shot down by its Iron Dome air defences. The Israeli military said it had killed at least 130 militants in the Palestinian territory.
On Tuesday, the army said a soldier was slightly injured when a shell was fired after it allowed the fuel convoy into Gaza. It says its forces have killed around 130 Hamas fighters and another 30 from Islamic Jihad.
On a visit to Iceland, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had received further information requested from Israel about its destruction of a Gaza high-rise that housed the local offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news organisations.
Blinken gave no further details about the information he said came through intelligence channels about Saturday’s attack.
Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Hamas intelligence had been situated in the building, whose occupants were warned by Israel in advance to evacuate.
Hamas were engaged in activity that would have undermined Israel’s ability to target effectively and intercept incoming rockets, Dermer told CNN.
Calling Netanyahu on Monday night, U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel had the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks but encouraged it to make every effort to protect civilians, the White House said.
Egypt and U.N. mediators also stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the U.N. General Assembly will meet to discuss the violence on Thursday.
Germany called for a ceasefire and offered more aid to help Palestinians before emergency European Union talks.
General strikes were held on Tuesday in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, Arab towns within Israel and in cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with posts on social media bearing a Palestinian flag and urging solidarity “from the sea to the river”.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Ramadan clashes between police and worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem have caused anger among Palestinians.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian who tried to attack them with a gun and improvised explosives, and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was downed near the border with Jordan on Tuesday, Israel’s military said.
Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, deplored the general strikes as “another blow to the delicate fabric of relations and cooperation between Jews and Arabs”.
Palestinian businesses in East Jerusalem were shuttered, including in the walled Old City, and in the mixed Jewish-Arab port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Protest organiser Raja Zaatar said 90% of businesses were shut in Arab neighbourhoods.
Overall in Israel, the strike appeared to have little effect on the general pace of commerce, or on the high-tech industry. An official at a large supermarket chain in which many Arab workers are employed said its stores were operating as usual, though some deliveries were delayed.
Strike participation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, seemed high, a Reuters witness said.
“We closed our shop like everyone else in solidarity with all Palestinians against the acts that are carried out against all of us,” said Mahmoud Jabr, 50, a grocery store owner outside his shuttered shop in Ramallah.
Ra’afat al-Saman, a business owner in East Jerusalem’s Salahaddin street, named after the Muslim conqueror who seized Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, said: “This is the least we could do for our own people.”
(Additional reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer and Stephen Farrell and Steven Scheer in Jerusalem and Zainah El-Haroun and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; editing by Timothy Heritage and Philippa Fletcher)