Amid a new major flare-up between Israel and the Gaza Strip Friday, the US issued statements voicing support for Jerusalem’s defensive actions, while generally calling for calm.
Meanwhile, the UN’s Middle East envoy expressed his “deep concern” over the escalating violence on both sides and appeared to criticize Israel for a strike that killed a top commander in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted that “the United States firmly believes that Israel has a right to protect itself,” adding that Washington was “engaging with different parties and urge all sides for calm.”
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council issued a similar message, urging “all sides for calm” while saying Israel was justified in defending itself.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply concerned by the ongoing escalation between Palestinian militants and Israel, including the targeted killing today of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader inside Gaza.”
This was in reference to Israel killing senior official Tayseer Jabari in one of the first strikes in its campaign.
“I am deeply saddened by reports that a five-year-old child has been killed in these strikes. There can be no justification for any attacks against civilians,” Wennesland said.
“The continuing escalation is very dangerous. The launching of rockets must cease immediately, and I call on all sides to avoid further escalation.”
In response to the UN envoy’s comments, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, lambasted Wennesland for showing concern for a terror chief: “While the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is launching missiles at Israeli civilians, the UN envoy expresses ‘deep concern’ for the neutralization of a senior terrorist behind an imminent attack on Israelis,” Erdan protested.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office issued a statement tearing into Israel for its airstrikes in Gaza.
“The presidency condemns the Israeli aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip, demands its immediate cessation and holds the occupation forces responsible for this dangerous escalation,” the statement said.
“The president calls on the international community to compel Israel to stop the aggression against our people everywhere, particularly in Gaza, and to provide them with international protection.”
Qatar’s foreign ministry said its government “expresses its strong condemnation and denunciation of the Israeli aggression in Gaza.” Qatar’s role in Gaza has long been critical, backing millions of dollars in aid that is used to help prop up the economy.
And Iran’s foreign ministry blasted “the brutal attack of the Zionist apartheid regime on Gaza and the assassination of resistance commanders and a group of defenseless Palestinian people.”
A spokesperson for the ministry called Israel’s actions “criminal, adventurous and provocative,” adding that “the responsibility of this crime and the consequences of this regime’s aggression and attack on Palestine and Gaza are completely directed at the apartheid regime of Israel.”
In the afternoon Israel launched Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza with multiple strikes on targets of the PIJ, killing a senior commander in one of them.
Israeli leaders said the actions were necessary after the group refused to back down from its intentions to carry out attacks against the country following the arrest of its West Bank leader. PIJ had been threatening since Tuesday to attack, causing days of road closures and Israeli community lockdowns in areas near the border under immediate threat.
More than 15 people were reported killed in Gaza. Israel said the vast majority were believed to be terror operatives, including Jabari. The Hamas-run health ministry said a five-year-old girl was also among the dead.
Islamic Jihad said the Israeli bombardment amounted to a “declaration of war,” hours before it unleashed what it said was an “initial response” of some 100 rockets toward Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties inside Israel, as officials in the country’s commercial capital Tel Aviv said they were opening the city’s bomb shelters.
Hebrew media reports indicated that Egypt had been attempting to mediate between the sides in recent days, but failed to convince the PIJ to back down from its plans to strike Israel after the arrest of PIJ’s West Bank leader Bassam Saadi in Jenin on Monday night.
The Israeli strikes on PIJ targets and rocket attacks on Israeli communities were ongoing late Friday.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the strikes were a “precise counter-terror operation against an immediate threat.”
Lapid, who was meeting with his security chiefs through the day, said: “Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know — we will find you.”