Egypt has reached out to Israel to help calm ongoing tensions amid days of unrest in Jerusalem and rocket fire from Gaza, but has yet to receive a response, its foreign minister told an emergency Arab League meeting Tuesday.
The Israel Defense Forces expanded its airstrikes in the Gaza Strip Tuesday afternoon in retaliation for the firing of hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities, in an escalation sparked by violent unrest at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount compound.
The international community has called for calm, while Muslim countries have voiced outrage amid the worst flare-up of Israel-Palestinian violence in years.
“In the last few days, Egypt extensively reached out to Israel and other concerned countries urging them to exert all possible efforts to prevent the deterioration of the situation in Jerusalem,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
“But we did not get the necessary response,” he told the meeting of the Arab League via videoconference.
While not specifying which other countries Egypt contacted, Shoukry condemned “Israeli violations at the walls of Al-Aqsa Mosque which crossed over into Sheikh Jarrah” in East Jerusalem.
“Egypt is still conducting intensive contacts with all international and regional actors in order to ensure calm in Jerusalem,” Shoukry said.
A diplomat familiar with mediation attempts told The Times of Israel that Hamas relayed Tuesday morning that it was interested in deescalating tensions, but that it would respond if Israeli strikes continued.
The diplomat also said that Israel has not responded to his country’s proposals aimed at ending the ongoing violence.
Israeli media reports said Jerusalem is currently not interested in pursuing a truce as it seeks to exact a “heavy price” from the Hamas terrorist group over its rocket fire. The Saudi-based Al-Arabiya TV said on Tuesday, however, that Israel reached out to Egypt to mediate a ceasefire agreement.
According to the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera network, Hamas has demanded that any ceasefire negotiations be preceded by an immediate cessation of Israeli military activity against Gaza, a demand Israel is unlikely to grant.
Tensions have been running high in Jerusalem for days, with thousands of Palestinians clashing violently with Israeli police at the Temple Mount. The holy site is deeply revered by Muslims for its Al-Aqsa Mosque and by Jews, whose two biblical temples were built on the hilltop.
Over 800 Palestinians and more than 30 police officers were wounded in the clashes, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent and Israeli police. Hundreds were hospitalized for wounds from rubber-tipped steel bullets and tear gas, the first aid group said.
Palestinian violence also focused on the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. An Israeli court has ruled to evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948. The neighborhood has seen nightly clashes between protesters and police. The families have appealed the evictions to Israel’s Supreme Court.
Speaking at the Tuesday gathering, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit lambasted Israeli violence directed towards Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
“Israel wants to convince the world that what happened in Sheikh Jarrah is a real estate dispute over some homes, as if we don’t have a memory,” he said.
On Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court delayed a potentially definitive hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. But the terror group launched a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday afternoon after issuing a brief ultimatum. Rocket fire continued on southern Israel throughout the night and through Tuesday, with over 600 rockets fired overall and 200 intercepted, according to the army.
Gheit described the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as being “completely beholden to the hardened agenda of settlers and extremist religious parties in Israel.”
Netanyahu warned Tuesday that Israel would “intensify the power” of its attacks on Hamas after two Israeli women were killed by rockets.
In response to the ongoing rockets attacks, IDF fighter jets, aircraft and tanks struck some 130 targets in the Gaza Strip, most of them associated with Hamas, but also some linked to other terror groups in the enclave, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Three Islamic Jihad commanders and a Hamas commander were killed in targeted Israeli strikes.
According to the Hamas health ministry, 28 Gazans were killed, including nine minors, and 122 wounded. Israel says that at least 18 of them were terror group members.
Local media has identified at least six of the minors so far. Mustafa Aloush, Zakaria Aloush, and Mohammad Suleiman were all high school students; Zakara and Mustafa were in eleventh grade, while Mohammad was in tenth grade.
Another three children were allegedly killed in an Israeli airstrike in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, including a ten-year-old girl named Rahaf al-Masri. The Israeli military has said the children were killed by an errant Palestinian rocket, however, not Israeli fire.
Fifteen Gazans sustained serious injuries, according to Hamas Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra.