Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City razed three buildings and killed at least 42 people on Sunday, Palestinian doctors said.
But despite the high death toll and international efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that the fourth war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers would rage.
In a televised speech on Sunday evening, Netanyahu said the attacks were continuing “at full force” and “will take time.” Israel “wants to take a heavy toll” on militant Hamas leaders in Gaza, he said, standing alongside his political rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.
The Israeli airstrike early Sunday was the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting erupted between Israel and Hamas nearly a week ago, marking the worst fighting here since the devastating 2014 war in Gaza. .
The airstrikes struck a busy downtown street of residential buildings and storefronts for five minutes just after midnight, destroying two adjacent buildings and one about 50 meters below.
At one point, a rescuer shouted, “Can you hear me?” in a hole in the rubble. “It’s okay?” A few minutes later, first responders pulled out a survivor and took him to an orange stretcher.
Gaza’s health ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 injured, and rescue efforts are still ongoing.
Home of the Hamas leader targeted
Earlier, the IDF said it destroyed the home of main Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis. This was the third such attack in the past two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who went underground.
Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage on Hamas as possible, as international mediators work to end the fighting. But targeting the group’s leaders could hamper those efforts. An American diplomat is in the region to try to defuse tensions, and the United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Sunday.
In its airstrikes, Israel razed a number of the tallest offices and residential buildings in Gaza City, alleging they contain Hamas’s military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing the offices of the The Bharat Express News and those of other media.
Meanwhile, militants in Gaza fired an early morning rocket barrage at Israel on Sunday.
In the Israeli town of Ashkelon, Zvi Daphna, a doctor whose neighborhood has been hit by several rockets, described a feeling of “fear and horror”.
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 threat of eviction of dozens of Palestinian families. by Jewish settlers. A focal point of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint that is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem on Monday evening, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza, which is home to more than two million Palestinians and has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
At least 188 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, and 1,230 people were injured. Eight people in Israel were killed, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.
The unrest also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and fueling violence in Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
On Sunday, a driver rammed into an Israeli checkpoint in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem – where Palestinian families have been threatened with deportation – injuring six policemen before police shot and killed the attacker, said the Israeli police.
The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Canada, the United States and Europe, where police in Paris fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters.
The IDF said on Sunday it had hit the home of Sinwar and that of his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas operative. On Saturday, he destroyed the house of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior official in the political wing of Hamas.
The upper echelon of Hamas went underground in Gaza, and it is unlikely that there was any at the time of the strikes. Top Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which provide political support to the group.
Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad group have admitted that 20 fighters have been killed since fighting erupted on Monday. Israel says the real number is much higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen suspected agents who it says have been “eliminated”.
An Egyptian diplomat said Israel’s targeting of Hamas political leaders would complicate ceasefire efforts. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations behind closed doors, said Cairo was working to negotiate an end to the fighting, as were other international actors.
The Egyptian diplomat said destroying Hamas’s rocket capabilities would require a ground invasion that “would set the whole region on fire.” Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago, threatened to “suspend” cooperation in various fields, the official said, without giving further details.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration in the United States has asserted its support for Israel while working to defuse the crisis. US diplomat Hady Amr met Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, who thanked the United States for their support. Gantz said Israel “takes all necessary precautions to strike only military targets and avoid harming civilians, while its civilians are the target of indiscriminate attacks.”
Hamas and other militant groups fired some 2,900 rockets at Israel. The military said 450 of the rockets failed or failed, while Israeli air defenses intercepted 1,150.
The interception rate appears to have dropped considerably since the conflict began, when Israel said 90% had been intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes across Gaza.
Outrage over media airstrike
On Saturday, Israel bombed the 12-story al-Jalaa building, where the The Bharat Express News office was located. The building also housed the Qatar-based Arab news channel Al Jazeera and other media, as well as several floors of apartments.
Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building.
Israel regularly cites Hamas’s presence as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to support their claims.
The PA has operated from the building for 15 years, including in three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. During these conflicts as well as the current conflict, the news agency’s cameras, operating from its top-floor office and rooftop terrace, provided live round-the-clock fire as militants’ rockets struck. arched towards Israel and that Israeli airstrikes pounded the city and its surroundings.
“We have had no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” PA CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “This is something that we actively verify to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly endanger our journalists.”
In the afternoon, the military called the owner of the building and warned that a strike would take place within the hour. PA personnel and other occupants were safely evacuated. Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, causing it to crash into a giant dust cloud.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified.”