Palestinians go on strike as Israel-Hamas fighting rages

APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_61268 Palestinians clash with Israeli forces at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_25203 An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_54720 Israeli police and Palestinian protesters clash in Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
AP-ML-Israel-Jerusalem-Conflict,_ADVISORY_83413 This preview image of an AP digital embed shows Locations of key events in the escalation of violence.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_29542 A Palestinian man sits in front of closed shops during a general strike, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Palestinian leaders are calling for a general strike in Gaza, the West Bank and within Israel to protest against Israel's air strikes on Gaza and the violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Houthi supporters hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a protest against Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Sanaa, Yemen.
Houthi supporters hold a large Palestinian flag during a protest against Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 17, 2021.
CORRECTS BYLINE TO HATEM MOUSSA - An Israeli drone files over Gaza City on Monday, May 17, 2021. The Israeli military unleashed a wave of heavy airstrikes Monday on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed 15 kilometers (9 miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders as international diplomats worked to end the weeklong war that has killed hundreds of people.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_94633 An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_21726 A Palestinian man looks at his damaged bedroom following early morning Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week.
Israel_Palestinians_52292 An apartment is damaged after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel, Monday, May 17, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_34860 A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a house destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week.
A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a house destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week.
Israel_Palestinians_79661 A top view shows the remains of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week.
Israel_Palestinians_29542 A Palestinian man sits in front of closed shops during a general strike, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Palestinian leaders are calling for a general strike in Gaza, the West Bank and within Israel to protest against Israel's air strikes on Gaza and the violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel_Palestinians_82182 A Palestinian vendor pushes a cart loaded with bread during a general strike, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Palestinian leaders are calling for a general strike in Gaza, the West Bank and within Israel to protest against Israel's air strikes on Gaza and the violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel_Palestinians_16195 People look at a residential building after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel, Monday, May 17, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_00324 This Sunday, May 16, 2021, satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows the rubble of a Gaza Strip high-rise building once home to the offices of The Associated Press and the Al-Jazeera satellite news network. An Israeli strike amid its fourth war with Gaza's Hamas rulers destroyed the al-Jalaa Building.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_85026 A Palestinian man looks from a broken window at the remains of a six-story building destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_99984 Israeli Kassadra Bodari, left, and Lilian Feciouru take shelter in Ashdod, Israel during sirens warning of incoming rockets fired from Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_02134 An Israeli runs for cover in Ashdod, Israel during sirens warning of incoming rockets fired from Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_54518 People in Ashdod, Israel take shelter in the stairwell of their apartment building during a siren warning of rockets fired from Gaza to Israel on May 18, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_61359 Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip to Israel, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Since the fighting began last week, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas' militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel.
Israel_Palestinians_94000 Israeli firefighters arrive at kibbutz in south Israel hit by rocket fire from Gaza that killed two Thai workers inside a packaging plant in southern Israel , Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Since the fighting began last week, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas' militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel.
Israel_Palestinians_25878 Nine month pregnant Eritrean asylum seeker Alganesh Fesahye sit with her children as they take shelter in the stairwell outside their apartment in Ashdod, Israel during a siren warning of rockets fired from Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 18,2021.
Israel_Palestinians_18297 Palestinian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a paint factory after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_08936 Mourners attend the funeral of Yigal Yehoshua, 56, at a cemetery in Hadid, central Israel, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Yehoshua died of wounds sustained when his car was pelted with rocks during Israeli Arab riots in the Israeli city of Lod on May 11.
Israel_Palestinians_84453 Israeli police arrests a Palestinian woman during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories went on strike in a rare collective protest Tuesday as Israeli missiles toppled a building in Gaza and militants in the Hamas-ruled territory fired dozens of rockets that killed two people.

The demonstrations and ongoing violence came as moves toward a cease-fire appeared to be gaining more traction.

U.S. officials said the Biden administration was privately encouraging Israel to wind down its bombardment of Gaza. Egyptian negotiators also were working to halt the fighting, and while they have not made progress with Israel, they were optimistic international pressure would force it to the table, according to an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing diplomatic efforts.

The general strike was a sign that the war could widen again after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the occupied West Bank last week.

Although the strike was peaceful in many places, with shops in Jerusalem’s usually bustling Old City markets shuttered, violence erupted in cities in the West Bank.

Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires in Ramallah and hurled stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas, and protesters picked up some of the canisters and threw them back. Three protesters were killed and more than 140 wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli army said two soldiers were wounded by gunshots to the leg.

The general strike was an uncommon show of unity by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state.

The strike was intended to protest the war and Israeli policies that many activists and some rights groups say constitute an overarching system of apartheid that denies Palestinians rights afforded to Jews. Israel rejects that characterization, saying its citizens have equal rights. It blames the war on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, and accuses it of inciting violence.

Leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel called the strike, which was embraced by the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where ministries and schools were closed. Most businesses appeared to be observing the strike.

Strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh said Palestinians are standing against Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as “brutal repression” by police.

The war has also seen an unusual outbreak of violence in Israel, with groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and torching vehicles and buildings. In both Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli forces. Scores have been injured, including a Jewish man who died Monday after being attacked last week by a group of Arabs in the central city of Lod.

The fighting began May 10 when Hamas fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

At least 217 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes, including 63 children, with more than 1,500 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in rocket attacks.

Tuesday’s rocket attack from Gaza hit a packaging plant in a region bordering the territory, killing two Thai workers. Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said it took another seven to the hospital. Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the wounded were also Thai.

The Israeli military said rockets also were fired at the Erez pedestrian crossing and at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where humanitarian aid was being brought into Gaza, forcing both to close. It said a soldier was slightly wounded at Erez.

Israeli airstrikes into Gaza demolished a six-story building housing bookstores and educational centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges. Desks, office chairs, books and wires could be seen in the debris. Israel warned its occupants beforehand, sending them fleeing before dawn. There were no reports of casualties.

The Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired more than 3,400 rockets from civilian areas in Gaza at civilian targets in Israel.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the military was focusing on destroying the tunnels where Hamas fighters hide, move between locations and resupply launchers with rockets to fire at Israel.

The tunnels run under civilian neighborhoods, and Israeli airstrikes have been trying to target roads above them to minimize damage to buildings, Conricus said. One weekend airstrike that Israel said targeted a tunnel caused several buildings to collapse and killed 42 people in the deadliest single attack of the conflict.

The attacks on the tunnels continue, “and the assessment is that that effort will be expanded to areas that we so far have not conducted this effort in, and that is to be expected over the coming days,” he said.

Medical supplies, fuel and water are running low in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Nearly 47,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.

Israeli attacks have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out.

The WHO said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa Hospital, has hindered ambulances and supply vehicles in Gaza, which was already struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak.

Among the buildings leveled by Israeli airstrikes was one housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating in the building. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday in Iceland that Israel had given the U.S. information about the bombing. Blinken declined to characterize the material, and Israel has not publicly provided evidence of its claim.

AP President Gary Pruitt reiterated calls for an independent investigation of the attack.

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This story has been updated to correct that the toppled six-story building housed bookstores, not libraries, and educational centers used by the Islamic University, not belonging to it.

___

Nessman reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss and Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Grant Peck in Bangkok and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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