WASHINGTON – The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it backs Israel's right to defend itself against rocket launches from Gaza, and that Hamas is to blame for the security escalation in the region.
"We strongly condemn the launching of missile attacks into Israel and call for an end to this destructive violence," a State Department official said. The same official added that "we fully support Israel’s right to self-defense and to take action to prevent such provocations."
The Israeli military said Thursday that it struck 150 targets in Gaza in retaliation to a massive barrage of rockets that was fired at Israel since Wednesday evening. Some 200 rockets were fired at Israel, the military said, with over 30 rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Palestinian factions in Gaza declared that they consider the latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza over, saying that maintaining the peace now depends on Israel. After the statement was released, however, a rocket was fired at the city of Be'er Sheva, located some 40 kilometers from the Strip. This was the first time rockets were fired at the city since the 2014 Gaza war.
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Hours later, reports in Gaza said the IDF renewed attacks on the Strip, this time destroying a cultural center in the al-Shati refugee camp in western Gaza, wounding 18. According to the IDF, however, the building was used by Hamas security forces.
According to the Trump administration, Hamas is responsible for the violence of the past few days, which could become a full-fledged war if things continue to deteriorate. "We can’t lose sight of the fact that Hamas bears primary responsibility for the dire humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, and for the desperation that Gaza’s residents feel," the State Department official said. "Hamas control of Gaza endangers the lives of Gaza’s people."
This statement came a day after a similar message was shared by Jason Greenblatt, Trump's special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, who wrote on his Twitter account: "Hamas regime again is launching rockets at Israeli communities. Another night of terror & families huddling in fear as Israel defends itself. This is the Hamas regime’s choice. Hamas is subjecting people to the terrifying conditions of war again."
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon appealed to the UN Secretary General and to the members of the UN Security Council, calling on them to “condemn the terror organization Hamas for its relentless terror attack in recent days on the communities in the south.” Danon said that “Hamas is solely responsible for the terror attacks and for launching beyond 180 rockets that have destroyed the hope of the children living near Gaza for a quiet summer vacation. No country would tolerate such a situation.”
British Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt expressed concern over the "deteriorating situation in Gaza/Israel and civilian casualties." In particular, he was worried over reports of death of pregnant woman and child." Burt added that "Hamas must end attacks against Israel. Support UN/Egypt efforts to restore calm and agree ceasefire. Escalation is in no-one’s interest."
Late on Wednesday night, the United Nations' Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov, released a statement concerning the escalation between Israel and Gaza. "I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation, particularly by today's multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel," he wrote.
"For months I have been warning that the humanitarian, security and political crisis in Gaza risks a devastating conflict that nobody wants. The UN has engaged with Egypt and all concerned parties in an unprecedented effort to avoid such a development," Mladenov continued.
In Israel, opposition lawmakers blasted Netanyahu's government for failing to achieve a lasting truce in Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks with Hamas.
"Netanyahu and Lieberman! You have failed!" Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay tweeted. "Is this the way to hold a negotiation? Our hearts are with the residents of the Gaza border region and we support the IDF in its mission of restoring security to residents of the area."
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni said that "this government has weakened the moderates and strengthened the radicals, four years of wasting time." She continued, saying: "This government prefers a Hamastan near the residents of the south. The 'let the IDF win' motto clearly doesn't work without complementary policy."