WASHINGTON - The Israeli-Hamas cease-fire held for a third day on Sunday even as authorities in Gaza and international health agencies rushed to treat 1,900 people wounded by the Israeli airstrikes.
In Jerusalem, Israeli police, without incident, admitted Jewish visitors to a contested holy site at the al-Aqsa mosque compound that is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Conflict at al-Aqsa was one of the precipitating events that triggered 11 days of cross-border attacks between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza before a cease-fire took effect on Friday.
The worst fighting in the region since 2014 left 248 people dead in Gaza and 13 in Israel, whose Iron Dome air defense system knocked down many of the missiles launched from Gaza.
With the immediate conflict halted, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the United States believes it is time for a settlement that grants “equal measures of rights for the Israelis and Palestinians.”
He told ABC’s “This Week” show that Palestinians need to “feel hope to live in security and dignity in a Palestinian state.” He said U.S. President Joe Biden “remains committed to a two-state solution,” with a separate state of Palestine, but acknowledged it was “not necessarily something for today.”
Blinken, who travels to the region this week, blamed Hamas militants for the recent fighting, saying, “Hamas has brought nothing but ruin to the Palestinian people.”
Many civic structures in Gaza were destroyed by the Israeli bombing, making it more difficult to treat the injured and deal with a surge in coronavirus cases brought on Palestinians crowding into community centers and underground bomb shelters to avoid the violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was sending medical equipment and supplies to Gaza to treat the injured and cope with the collapsed infrastructure. Water supplies have been cut by 40% in Gaza and 700,000 people affected by power outages.
Palestinian officials say the reconstruction will cost tens of millions of dollars.
Lynn Hastings, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, told reporters that the international COVAX vaccine program run by the World Health Organization and other institutions plans to ship coronavirus vaccine doses to Gaza within days. Currently, fewer than 40,000 Gazans have been vaccinated, less than 2% of the population.
Isael said it did its best to avoid civilian casualties in the conflict, blaming Hamas for firing rockets that targeted Israelis.
An adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, told Fox News Sunday that the Israeli airstrikes had dealt Hamas a “heavy blow” and expressed hope it would serve as a deterrent.
Some progressive U.S. Democratic lawmakers have called for an end to U.S. arms sales to Israel, including a pending shipment worth $735 million, in the belief that such arms deals generate more conflict in the region.
Before the cease-fire was reached, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said, “At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate.”
“I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Sanders said. “We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”
Blinken said the U.S. believes in giving “Israel the means to defend itself” against Palestinian rocket attacks but said that any arms sale will be done “in full consultation with Congress.”
Police raids in and near al-Aqsa during the recent Muslim holy month of Ramadan, along with planned evictions of Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, ignited the Hamas rocket attacks on May 10 and touched off the 11 days of fighting.
Meanwhile, Egyptian mediators have been traveling across the Gaza border and met with Hamas's West Bank-based rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to sustain the cease-fire.