The United States and Israel have agreed to launch air raids on Gaza over suspected use of outlawed chemical weapons in a major escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and nearly 1,500 Israelis.
The announcement on Thursday was a dramatic shift from previous talks that ended with a long pause.
The United Nations said it expected to see “serious restrictions” imposed on imports of chlorine-based munitions.
Israel has rejected claims that it has used banned chemical weapons, and the United States has repeatedly accused it of using them.
Israel is in the midst of a massive rebuilding of Gaza, and is now battling Hamas fighters in Gaza, where a long-running power struggle has been the biggest obstacle to a lasting peace.
The conflict, which has killed nearly 1.7 million Palestinians, has dragged on for more than six years, with Israel and Hamas battling each other in the enclave.
The United Nations has said it has received reports of chlorine in Gaza since late March, when Israel announced that it was planning to destroy the entire infrastructure of the enclave, including its water, sewage and power plants.
Israel responded by launching more than 1,400 airstrikes, with dozens of civilians killed, and Israel’s army said it would take retaliatory action.
But Israeli officials have dismissed such allegations, and they have said they are not planning to halt the operation until the United Nations confirms they have used banned weapons.
In a statement, a senior Israeli military official said Israel will be prepared to respond to any attack using banned weapons and that the military would take the necessary steps to ensure that any chemical weapons are destroyed and the population of Gaza and its infrastructure cannot return to civilian life.
“Israel has never used banned weaponry in its fight against Hamas, and we will not tolerate any attempt to use banned weapons in the future,” the official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Israeli air raids were in response to “a significant increase” in reports of civilian casualties and in response “to Hamas firing missiles at Israeli cities”.
In response to Israel’s latest air raid, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society called on Palestinians in Gaza to remain calm.
“It is essential that we keep calm and not take the offensive.
We need to keep our children alive, not allow them to be injured or killed,” the group’s director, Ashraf al-Qidra, told Reuters.
He said Israeli strikes had hit homes and schools, hospitals, schools and the Gaza-Israel border, causing “serious and widespread damage”.
Gaza’s water and sewage infrastructure was “damaged beyond repair” by the air strikes, al-Risheh said, adding that Israeli strikes on infrastructure could affect the supply of drinking water and sanitation services.
He said the attack was the latest in a series of retaliatory strikes by Israel against the besieged enclave, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Palestinians have accused Israel of using banned chemical arms, accusing it of shelling towns and villages in the Gaza Strip and firing artillery from the area to target homes and civilian targets.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said in a statement on Thursday that it had destroyed the “primary storage” for banned chemical munitions at a military base in the southern Gaza Strip, in response, but gave no details on when that happened or how many shells had been fired.