Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on Sunday shattered three buildings, killing at least 42 people, medics said when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that the fourth Israeli-Palestinian war would rage in Gaza despite international efforts to bring about a ceasefire .
In a televised speech on Sunday night, Netanyahu said the attacks continued “with full force” and that “it will take time.” Israel wants to charge a heavy price ‘of the militant Hamas rulers in Gaza, flanked by its defense minister and political rival, defense minister Benny Gantz, in a tone of unity.
The Israeli air strike early Sunday was the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out almost a week ago between Israel and Hamas, making it the worst fighting here since the devastating 2014 war in Gaza.
The airstrikes hit a major street in downtown residential buildings and shop windows for five minutes after midnight, destroying two adjoining buildings and one about 50 meters along the road.
At one point, a rescuer shouted, “Can you hear me?” in a hole in the rubble. “Are you OK?” Minutes later, first responders pulled out a survivor and carried him away on an orange stretcher. The Gaza Ministry of Health said 16 women and ten children were killed, with more than 50 injured, and that rescue efforts were still under way.
Earlier, the Israeli army said it had destroyed the home of Gaza’s leading Hamas leader Yahiyeh Sinwar in a separate strike in the southern city of Khan Younis. It was the third attack in the past two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, which went underground.
Israel appears to have stepped up strikes over the past few days to inflict as much damage on Hamas as possible, as international mediators work to end the fighting and deter an Israeli ground invasion. But targeting the group leaders can hamper these efforts. A US diplomat is in the region to try to ease tensions, and the UN Security Council will meet on Sunday.
In its airstrikes, Israel razed some of the tallest office and residential buildings in Gaza City, claiming to contain Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building with the office of the Associated Press and that of other media.
The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month when Palestinian protests and clashes with police erupted in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. The focal point of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a regular hotspot located on a hill worshiped by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem late Monday, sparking an Israeli attack on impoverished Gaza, which houses more than 2 million Palestinians and has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control of rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
At least 188 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 wounded. Eight people in Israel were killed, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.
Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi, spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday, saying Hamas did not expect Israel’s overwhelming response to its rocket fire. “Hamas made a serious and serious mistake and did not read us properly.”
The unrest also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and causing violence in Israel between the Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilance on people and property. The violence also led to pro-Palestinian protests in cities in Europe and the United States, with French police firing tear gas and water cannons at protesters in Paris.
The army said on Sunday that it had hit Sinwar’s home and his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. It destroyed the house of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch, on Saturday.
Hamas’ upper echelon has been hiding in Gaza, and is unlikely to have been at home during the strikes. Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which offer political support to the group.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have admitted that 20 fighters have been killed since fighting broke out on Monday. Israel says the actual number is much higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen suspected people who they say have been ‘eliminated’.
An Egyptian diplomat said the target of Israel on Hamas’ political leaders would complicate the stalemate. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations, said Cairo was putting an end to the fighting, as were other international actors.
The Egyptian diplomat said the destruction of Hamas’ missile capability would require a ground invasion that would ignite the entire region. Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago, has threatened to suspend cooperation in various areas, the official said without expanding it.
Meanwhile, Biden’s government reaffirmed its support for Israel as it worked to ease the crisis. U.S. diplomat Hady Amr met with Israeli Defense Minister Gantz, who thanked the United States for its support. Gantz said Israel “takes every precaution to strike only at military targets and to harm civilians, while civilians are the targets of indiscriminate attacks.”
Hamas and other militant groups fired about 2,900 rockets at Israel. The army said 450 of the rockets were fired too short or fired incorrectly, while the Israeli air defense intercepted 1150.
The interception rate seems to have dropped significantly since the start of the conflict, when Israel said 90% were intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel has meanwhile carried out hundreds of airstrikes across Gaza.
On Saturday, Israel bombed the 12-story al-Jalaa building, which housed the office of The Associated Press. The building also housed the Al-Jazeera TV network and other media, as well as several apartments.
“The campaign will continue for as long as it takes,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. He claims that Hamas’ military intelligence is operating inside the building.
Israel regularly cites a Hamas presence as a reason to focus on certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The army also accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to substantiate the claims.
The AP has operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. During the conflict as well as the current one, the news agency’s cameras, operating from the office and rooftop terrace on the top floor, offered 24 hours of live shots as militants fired rockets at Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.
“We had no indication that Hamas was in the building or operating in the building,” AP president Gary Pruitt said in a statement. ‘It’s something we actively pursue to the best of our ability. We will never knowingly endanger our journalists. ”
In the afternoon, the army called the owner of the building and warned that a strike would take place within an hour. AP staff and other occupants evacuated safely. Shortly afterwards, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it and crashed into a giant cloud of dust.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “We are shocked and terrified.”