Israel Opposition Leader Yair Lapid Accuses Netanyahu of Jeopardizing Relationship With U.S.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what he said was failure to heed the requests of the U.S. government to call for a cease-fire with Hamas, saying Netanyahu is putting the U.S.-Israel relationship in jeopardy.

The U.S. has called for Israel to end the fighting and agree to a cease-fire. Netanyahu has refused the requests, and appears determined to inflict maximum damage against Hamas in a war that could save his political career, the Associated Press reported.

Lapid criticized Netanyahu on Facebook for failing to develop a concrete policy regarding the Gaza Strip.

"After 11 days of this operation, every Israeli citizen will ask themselves: What did the government really want to achieve with this military operation? What is its policy and strategic long-term aim concerning Hamas in Gaza?" Lapid wrote.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what he said was failure to heed the requests of the U.S. government to call for a cease-fire with Hamas, saying Netanyahu is putting the U.S.-Israel relationship in jeopardy. Above, Lapid speaks at a press conference on May 6, 2021, in Tel Aviv. Amir Levy/Getty Images

U.N. calls for cease-fire

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief is urging an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers at the start of a U.N. General Assembly emergency meeting.

The session is expected to hear from about 100 speakers, including 12 ministers mainly from Arab and Islamic countries.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Thursday's in-person meeting in the assembly chamber that he and the U.N. Mideast envoy are engaged in "extensive diplomatic efforts" in the region, including with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, to stop the fighting.

He called on all members of the international community "to do everything in their power to enable the parties to conflict to step back from the brink."

The U.N. chief also called on Israel and Hamas "to allow for mediation efforts to intensify in order to bring the fighting to an end."

Guterres implicitly criticized Israel and Hamas for violating "the laws of war" which ban indiscriminate attacks and attacks against civilians and civilian property as well as attacks on military targets that cause disproportionate civilian casualties. He said "counter-terrorism or self-defense" are not justifications.

He urged Israeli authorities to abide by the laws, "including the proportionate use of force" and called on them "to exercise maximum restraint in the conduct of military operations." He urged Hamas and other militant groups "to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighborhoods into civilian population centers in Israel."

Rally to end Israeli campaign

KARACHI, Pakistan — About 200 members of civil society have rallied in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, demanding an immediate end to Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip and violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The protesters on Thursday chanted slogans against Israel and in support of the Palestinians. Pakistanis are also expected to hold nationwide anti-Israel rallies on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer.

Thursday's rally comes hours after Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi flew to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly to condemn Israel's strikes on Palestine.

Pakistan is among few countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Netanyahu says Iran behind drone

JERUSALEM — Netanyahu says Iran was behind an armed drone that Israel intercepted after entering its airspace this week.

Netanyahu said during a meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Tel Aviv on Thursday that "Iran sent an armed drone to Israel from Iraq or from Syria" that crossed into Israel from Jordanian airspace before it was intercepted.

Netanyahu told Maas that "while we're fighting on various fronts, the true backer of much of this aggression is Iran," pointing to its support for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups.

Netanyahu's remarks came as Israel unleashed another wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several. Meanwhile, Hamas fired more rockets, even as expectations rose that a cease-fire could be coming.

U.N. to hold special session

GENEVA — The U.N.'s top human rights body said Thursday it will hold a special session next week to address "the grave human rights situation" in Palestinian areas in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Human Rights Council will convene the May 27 meeting following a request presented by Pakistan, as coordinator of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

The session at the 47-member state body in Geneva paves the way for a day-long debate over the recent deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Mideast conflict that has raged for decades.

More than 60 states — including member states and observer states — have so far expressed support for the special session, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said.

The United States, under President Donald Trump, quit the council in mid-2018 — partially over the administration's allegations that the council has an anti-Israel bias. President Joe Biden has returned the U.S. to participation at the council, and the U.S. plans to seek a seat next year.

Israel's ambassador in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, called on member states to "strongly oppose this meeting."

"The convening of yet another special session by the Human Rights Council targeting Israel is testament to the clear anti-Israel agenda of this body," she wrote on Twitter.

China engaged in mediation

BEIJING — China says it has been "actively engaged in mediation" toward ending the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Special envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Jun, has spoken with officials of the Palestinian and Egyptian foreign ministries and will also speak with representatives of Israel, Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and other parties, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Thursday.

Zhao said the envoy was calling for an immediate ceasefire, strengthening assistance to Palestine, and reiterating (China's) firm commitment to the two-state solution."

He said Beijing would like to host negotiations between the two sides in China and is willing to provide humanitarian and other types of assistance to the Palestinian side "within its capabilities."

China has long been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause but also maintains robust ties with Israel. The country has criticized the U.S. for blocking the adoption of a United Nations resolution calling for an end to the fighting in Gaza.

Merkel says contacts needed

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that "indirect contacts" with the Hamas militant group, such as those maintained by some Arab countries, are necessary to defuse the situation in the Middle East.

Speaking in Berlin as her foreign minister visited Israel and the West Bank on Thursday, Merkel downplayed how much Germany alone can do to help defuse the situation.

Merkel said at an event organized by WDR public television: "Everything we are doing, and the foreign minister is doing, must be seen in the context of American efforts and the efforts of other European states." She added: "I don't think we alone will be the decisive factor there, but we can make a contribution" along with the U.S., other Europeans and Britain.

Germany has placed the blame for the latest war in the Middle East squarely on Hamas and what it calls the group's "rocket terror."

Asked whether she would back someone speaking with the group, Merkel replied: "Of course there have to be indirect contacts with Hamas. Egypt speaks to Hamas and so do other Arab countries."

She added that Egypt is a "very, very important quantity" in cease-fire efforts and "that can't be done without any contact with Hamas -- it doesn't always have to be done directly. But of course Hamas has to be involved in a certain way, because without Hamas there is no cease-fire."

German show of solidarity

BERLIN — Germany's foreign minister says his visit to the Mideast is intended as a show of solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian civilians suffering from the latest eruption of conflict, and part an effort to push for a cease-fire and resumption of peace talks.

Maas said ahead of his departure Thursday that "Germany stands unconditionally to its friendship with Israel, which must defend itself against the rocket terror by Hamas."

He said that Palestinians can also rely on his country's humanitarian support even in difficult times.

Maas, who plans to meet the Israeli president, foreign minister and defense minister, as well as the Palestinian prime minister, during his one day trip, said the international community must find a way to help end the violence.

He called for talks on a path back to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians "even if they seem miles away at the moment."

Maas said he hoped the Mideast Quartet comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations could play an "active role" in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict soon.

U.S. opposes U.N. resolution

UNITED NATIONS — The United States opposes a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers. The U.S. says it could interfere with the Biden administration's efforts to end the hostilities.

France drafted the resolution after the U.S. earlier blocked at least four attempts to have the council issue a press statement calling for an end to hostilities.

A press statement requires agreement by all 15 council members. A resolution only requires at least nine "yes" votes and no veto by the United States or any of the four other permanent members.

A French spokesman had said "very intense discussions" were taking place Wednesday with the U.S. on the proposed resolution.

But the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said later "that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate."

Agency appeals for emergency funds

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees is urgently appealing for $38 million for emergency needs in Gaza as a result of conflict between Israel and the territory's Hamas rulers.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said Wednesday that it is already responding to the humanitarian needs of refugees and non-refugees, including tens of thousands of people who have sought safety in the agency's schools and emergency shelters.

The agency says the $38 million is needed for an initial 30-day period to respond to a variety of immediate needs in Gaza including food, health care, psychological services, and water and sanitation. It also includes emergency needs in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, for health care, shelter, education, security and protection.

"Only road to freedom"

BEIRUT — The leader the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group says militant factions in Gaza went into the latest battle with Israel knowing it will be "costly but also knowing that it is the only road to freedom and to protect Jerusalem."

Ziad Nakhaleh said in a televised speech from Beirut on Wednesday that neither nuclear weapons, warplanes nor peace agreements with some Arab states could bring Israelis security and peace.

He added that militant groups in Gaza have "made miracles that you can see with your own eyes and you live them every moment when you run to shelters."

Nakhaleh was referring to thousands of missiles and rockets that Gaza militants have fired toward Israel.

Nakhaleh said that after Israel's moves that threatened the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, "we were in front of two choices, to surrender and to give them everything or fight them over everything."

Foreign ministers arriving in Israel

JERUSALEM — Israel's Foreign Ministry says foreign ministers from Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia will arrive in Israel on Thursday.

The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the diplomats were invited by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi "to express their solidarity and support" for Israel during its campaign against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

The visit comes as Israel faces mounting international pressure to de-escalate hostilities after 10 days of heavy fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Israel stays on mission

JERUSALEM — Netanyahu says he is "determined to continue this operation until its aim is met," despite U.S. President Joe Biden's call for a de-escalation of hostilities in Gaza.

In a statement from his office Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he "greatly appreciates the support of the American president," but said Israel will push ahead "to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel."

Earlier, Biden called for "significant de-escalation" by day's end from Netanyahu after 10 days of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Egypt waiting for response

CAIRO — An Egyptian diplomat says some of the country's top officials are waiting for Israel's response to a cease-fire offer, and that they expect amendments to their proposal.

He says they hope France's increasing efforts could spur the United States to exert its influence on Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to stop the fighting as soon as possible.

He added that if that doesn't happen, there are some discussions among Arab and Islamic nations, along with China, to put the issue before the U.N. General Assembly in an effort to bypass the Security Council and the U.S.'s veto power there.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Egypt has been trying to broker a cease-fire between neighboring Israel and Hamas, as it is one of a handful of countries that maintains official ties with both.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (right) and German counterpart Heiko Maas shake hands during a press conference at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 20, 2021. Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP

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