Israeli air strikes hammered the Gaza Strip Monday, after a week of violence between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants left more than 200 people dead as international calls for de-escalation went unheeded.
Overnight Sunday to Monday, Israel launched dozens of strikes in the space of a few minutes across the crowded coastal Palestinian enclave controlled by Islamist group Hamas. Flames lit up the sky as blasts shook Gaza city.
The strikes caused widespread power cuts and damaged hundreds of buildings, local authorities said. No casualties were immediately reported.
Israel’s army said in a statement that it hit the homes of nine ‘high-ranking’ Hamas commanders, without providing details on casualties.
The overnight bombardment also included a third round of strikes on what the army calls the ‘Metro,’ its term for a Hamas underground tunnel network.
Israel said 54 fighter jets pounded nine miles of tunnels, which the army has previously acknowledged runs in part through civilian areas.
In total, 197 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 58 children, and more than 1,200 wounded since Israel launched its air campaign against Hamas on May 10 after the group fired rockets. The heaviest exchange of fire in years was sparked by unrest in Jerusalem.
In Israel, 10 people, including one child, have been killed and 294 wounded by rocket fire launched by armed groups in Gaza.
Israeli jets continued their bombardment of Gaza overnight with 54 planes involved in strikes on nine miles of Hamas tunnels and nine homes of senior figures within the group, according to the IDF
Palestinians living under nightly threat of bombardment described the raids as the ‘most devastating’ they had witnessed, exceeding the scale of attacks during the 2014 war
The death toll now stands at 207 since fighting began on Monday last week, with 197 Palestinians killed including at least 58 children, while 10 Israelis have lost their lives including one child
Israel’s Iron Dome defence system intercepts rockets fired from Gaza overnight, as Hamas targeted the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon with one synagogue destroyed
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu defends Gaza air strikes
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended his attacks on the Gaza strip, saying a country has a right to defend itself, and argued the United States knows ‘d**n well’ it would do the same thing.
In a defiant interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, Netanyahu denied any political motivation for the attacks that have left 174 Palestinians dead, including 47 children. In Israel, 10 people have been killed in total, including two children, with barrages of rockets fired from Gaza.
‘I think any country has to defend itself, and we’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and the security of our people,’ he said.
He argued he was fighting Hamas, a terrorist organization that hid behind civilians, as tensions rose between Israelis and Palestinians to levels not seen since a 2014 war.
‘Frankly, if Hamas thought that they could just fire on our rockets and then sit back and enjoy immunity, that’s false. We are targeting a terrorist organization that is targeting our civilians and hiding behind their civilians, using them as human shields.
‘We’re doing everything we can to hit the terrorists themselves, their rockets their rocket caches and their arms, but we’re not going to just let them get away with it,’ he said.
And, when pressed on the issue, he snapped back to interviewer John Dickinson.
‘What would you do if it happened to Washington and New York? You know d**n well what you’d do,’ Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, denied his actions were about staying in power.
‘That’s preposterous,’ he said.
‘Anybody who knows me knows that I’ve never, ever subordinated security concerns, the life of our soldiers the life of our citizens for political interests, that’s just hogwash,’ he added.
‘I’ll do what I have to do to protect the lives of Israeli citizens and to restore peace and make peace with for our countries.
‘I’m glad that we have a restoration of some considerable calm within Israel. That’s my goal to restore peace and quiet and to assure tranquility.’
The night of strikes began when Hamas rockets were fired at the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon, with one slamming into a synagogue hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.
Israeli aircraft then launched their own raids, with the IDF saying that nine residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders were hit. Some of the homes were used for weapons storage, it said.
Later in the morning, Palestinian media reported that Israel had struck a factory in northern Gaza. Video on social media showed a column of thick black smoke rising into the air.
West Gaza resident Mad Abed Rabbo, 39, expressed ‘horror and fear’ at the intensity of the onslaught.
‘There have never been strikes of this magnitude,’ he said.
Gazan Mani Qazaat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘should realise we’re civilians, not fighters’, adding ‘I felt like I was dying’.
The renewed strikes come a day after 42 Palestinians in Gaza – including at least eight children and two doctors, according to the health ministry – were killed in the worst daily death toll in the enclave since the bombardments began.
Israel’s army said about 3,100 rockets had been fired since last Monday from Gaza – the highest rate ever recorded – but added its Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over 1,000.
Netanyahu said in a televised address Sunday that Israel’s ‘campaign against the terrorist organisations is continuing with full force’ and would ‘take time’ to finish.
The Israeli army said it had targeted the infrastructure of Hamas and armed group Islamic Jihad, weapons factories and storage sites.
Israeli air strikes also hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’s political wing in Gaza, the army said, releasing footage of plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.
On Saturday, Israel gave journalists from Al Jazeera and AP news agency an hour to evacuate their offices before launching air strikes, turning their tower block into piles of smoking rubble.
Netanyahu on Sunday said the building also hosted a Palestinian ‘terrorist’ intelligence office.
‘It is a perfectly legitimate target,’ he said.
In the Israeli air assault early Sunday, families were buried under piles of cement rubble and twisted rebar. A yellow canary lay crushed on the ground.
Shards of glass and debris covered streets blocks away from the major downtown thoroughfare where the three buildings were hit over the course of five minutes around 1 a.m.
The hostilities have repeatedly escalated over the past week, marking the worst fighting in the territory that is home to 2 million Palestinians since Israel and Hamas’ devastating 2014 war.
‘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.’
Rescuers furiously dug through the rubble using excavators and bulldozers amid clouds of heavy dust. One shouted, ‘Can you hear me?’ into a hole. Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 wounded.
Haya Abdelal, 21, who lives in a building next to one that was destroyed, said she was sleeping when the airstrikes sent her fleeing into the street.
She accused Israel of not giving its usual warning to residents to leave before launching such an attack.
‘We are tired,’ she said, ‘We need a truce. We can´t bear it anymore.’
The Israeli army spokesperson´s office said the strike targeted Hamas ‘underground military infrastructure.’
As a result of the strike, ‘the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses’ foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties,’ it said.
Among those reported killed was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, the head of the internal medicine department at Shifa Hospital and a senior member of the hospital’s coronavirus management committee. Two of Abu Al-Ouf´s teenage children and two other family members were also buried under the rubble.
Israel was unable to give an estimate of the death toll from last night’s raids, a day after the deadliest 24 hours of the conflict so far, with 42 Palestinians killed
Smoke and flames rise above a building as Gaza was hit by bombs dropped by 54 Israeli jets during airstrikes overnight
Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli warplanes target the Palestinian enclave
Israel says the bombing is targeted at networks of Hamas tunnels that run under the city and the homes of group leaders, but at least 58 children have been killed in the raids so far
AP editor demands answers after building destroyed
The Associated Press’ top editor is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the AP, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media, saying the public deserves to know the facts.
Separately, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of a building housing the media organizations as a possible war crime.
Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said Sunday that the Israeli government has yet to provide clear evidence supporting its attack, which leveled the 12-story al-Jalaa tower.
The Israeli military, which gave AP journalists and other tenants about an hour to evacuate, claimed Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Israel was compiling evidence for the U.S. but declined to commit to providing it within the next two days.
‘We’re in the middle of fighting,’ Conricus said Sunday. ‘That’s in process and I’m sure in due time that information will be presented.’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would share any evidence of Hamas’ presence in the targeted building through intelligence channels. But neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any American official had seen it.
Buzbee said the AP has had offices in al-Jalaa tower for 15 years and never was informed or had any indication that Hamas might be in the building. She said the facts must be laid out.
‘We are in a conflict situation,’ Buzbee said. ‘We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.’
‘We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday – an independent investigation,’ she added
The death of the 51-year-old physician ‘was a huge loss at a very sensitive time,’ said Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa.
Gaza´s health care system, already gutted by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces, had been struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections even before the latest conflict.
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.
The violence between Hamas and Israel is the worst since 2014, when Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip with the stated aim of ending rocket fire and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.
The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
Opening the first session of the UN Security Council on the renewed violence on Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the fighting ‘utterly appalling’.
‘It must stop immediately,’ he said.
But the UN talks, already delayed by Israel’s ally the United States, resulted in little action, with Washington opposing a resolution.
U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration is working with all parties towards achieving a sustained calm.
‘We also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy,’ he said in a pre-taped video aired at an event marking the Muslim Eid holiday on Sunday.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that the United Nations was ‘actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire’ and urged them ‘to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed.’ U.N. envoys have helped to mediate past truces between Israel and Hamas.
Washington, a strong ally of Israel, has been isolated at the United Nations over its objection to a public statement by the Security Council on the violence because it worries it could harm behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Jordan’s King Abdullah said his kingdom was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt the bloodshed, but did not elaborate.
Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank, where 19 Palestinians have been killed since May 10, according to a toll from Palestinian authorities.
Major clashes broke out at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound – one of Islam’s holiest sites – on May 7 following a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Sheikh Jarrah has been at the heart of the flareup, seeing weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
On Sunday, a car-ramming attack in Sheikh Jarrah wounded seven police officers, police said, adding that the attacker had been killed.
Police also said ‘a number of suspects’ had been arrested during clashes in another east Jerusalem neighbourhood overnight Sunday to Monday.
Guterres warned the fighting could have far-reaching consequences if not stopped immediately.
‘It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole.’