The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace said Saturday evening that the UN and Egypt are working together to end the fighting between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
“The United Nations is working with Egypt and all sides to calm the situation. I call on all parties to immediately de-escalate and return to the understandings of the past few months. Those who seek to destroy them will bear responsibility for a conflict that will have grave consequences for all,” Nikolay Mladenov said in a statement.
“Continuing down the current path of escalation will quickly undo what has been achieved and destroy the chances for long term solutions to the crisis. This endless cycle of violence must end, and efforts must accelerate to realize a political solution to the crisis in Gaza,” he added.
Mladenov also said the flare-up “jeopardizes the significant progress made in recent weeks to relieve the suffering of people in Gaza, lift the closures, and support intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, on Saturday told the Security Council that Israel has the right to defend itself, and called on the international body to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.
“The State of Israel has the duty and the full right to do all that is necessary to protect our people and our sovereignty, and we will continue do so at all times,” Danon wrote, calling on the Council to “take this opportunity to finally condemn terrorism against Israel, designate Hamas as a terrorist organization and support the fundamental right of Israel to self-defense.”
Earlier on Saturday, the EU also strongly condemned the rocket fire from Gaza at Israel.
“The rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel must stop immediately. A de-escalation of this dangerous situation is urgently needed to ensure that civilians’ lives are protected,” a spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Saturday evening.
“Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to live in peace, security and dignity. Only a political solution can put an end to the violence. Efforts by Egypt and the UN to calm the situation have the European Union’s full support.”
The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday bombed more than 120 targets in the Gaza Strip, including a cross-border attack tunnel, an underground rocket factory and a six-story building used by Hamas’s military intelligence, in response to the 250 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel throughout the day, the army said.
The army said it was prepared to continue conducting airstrikes if the attacks from the Strip continue.
Terror groups in Gaza made similar threats, saying they were prepared to attack deeper into Israel if the IDF continued its strikes on targets in the enclave.
A senior Israeli official told Channel 13 news that there is growing understanding there will not be an immediate return to calm on the southern border, with an expectation of “at least two to three days of fighting.”
Hamas in a statement said it was “prepared to respond to Israel’s crimes” and vowed to stop it from “spilling the blood of our people.” Gaza’s second-largest terror group, Islamic Jihad, threatened to disrupt the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, due to take place in Tel Aviv May 14-18, as well as issuing a video threatening the Dimona nuclear facility, Ben Gurion Airport and other sensitive sites in Israel.
Following heavy fighting in early April, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza.
Israel on Saturday announced it had closed the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings into the Strip following the rocket attacks, as well as the fishing zones off the Gaza coast.
That agreement between Israel and the terror groups appeared to be under stress in recent days, with Palestinians launching arson balloons and rockets into Israel and Israeli warplanes striking Hamas targets. Hamas has said the incendiary balloons were a message to Israel not to hold up the transfer of millions of dollars in Qatari aid funds to the cash-strapped Hamas government in Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007. Jerusalem says it is necessary to prevent terror groups from rearming and becoming an even greater menace.
The sides are bitter enemies and have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller flare-ups of violence.
Agencies contributed to this report.