The Israeli military unleashed a wave of heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Monday, saying it destroyed nine miles (14 kilometres) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders.
Residents of Gaza who were awakened by the overnight barrage described it as the heaviest since the war began a week ago, and even more powerful than a wave of airstrikes in Gaza City the day before that left 42 dead and flattened three buildings.
Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One slammed into a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.
There was no immediate word on the casualties from the latest Israeli strikes. A three-story building in Gaza City was heavily damaged, but residents said the military warned them 10 minutes beforehand and everyone cleared out. They said many of the airstrikes hit nearby farmland.
Gaza Mayor Yahya Sarraj told Al-Jazeera TV the airstrikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure. “If the aggression continues, we expect conditions to become worse,” he said.
He also warned that the territory was running low on fuel and other spare parts. The U.N. has warned that Gaza’s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel. The territory already experiences daily power outages of 8-12 hours and tap water is undrinkable.
The war broke out last Monday, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the Holy City between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint holy site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Since then, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,100 rockets into Israel.
At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.
“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war,” he added, referring to the most destructive of the four wars fought between Israel and Hamas.
The military said it struck nine houses in different parts of northern Gaza that belonged to “high ranking commanders” in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the territory since seizing power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
In recent days, Israel has targeted the homes of a number of senior Hamas leaders, including Yehiyeh Sinwar, the top leader inside Gaza. The group’s leadership goes underground when the fighting begins and it’s unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes.
The military said it struck 35 “terror targets” as well as the tunnels, which it says are part of an elaborate system it refers to as the “Metro,” used by fighters to elude aircraft and smuggle in military equipment.
In a televised address Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time,” since Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group.
On the CBS News broadcast “Face the Nation” Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel would “do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and the security of our people and deterrence.”
Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.
Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, has called for an independent investigation into the Saturday airstrike. The Israeli military alerted staff and residents before the strike and all were able to evacuate the building safely.
Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.
The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that Israeli officials showed the U.S. a “smoking gun” proving Hamas worked out of the building. CBS News has not confirmed that report.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court on Sunday to investigate Israel’s bombing of the AP building and others housing media organizations as a possible war crime. The Paris-based group said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations have been destroyed over the past six days. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public.”
President Biden mentioned the on-going conflict in Israel during his pre-taped remarks Sunday made for a virtual celebration of Eid, marking the end of Ramadan.
“We also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security, and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. And my administration is going to continue to engage Palestinians, Israelis, and other regional partners to work towards sustainable calm.”
Efforts by China, Norway and Tunisia to get the U.N. body to issue a statement, including a call for the cessation of hostilities, have been blocked by the United States which, according to diplomats, is concerned it could interfere with diplomatic efforts to stop the violence.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki urged the Security Council during an emergency meeting Sunday to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’ “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks.”
The turmoil has fuelled protests in the occupied West Bank and stoked violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Europe and the United States.
Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators work to end the fighting and stave off an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.
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