Gaza rocked by fresh airstrikes after Netanyahu vows to keep attacks at ‘full force’

Israeli warplanes have launched what appeared to be the heaviest airstrikes yet on Gaza City, hours after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled the bombardment would rage on.

The series of attacks early on Monday rocked the city from north to south for 10 minutes and was more intense, covered a broader area and lasted longer than the raids 24 hours earlier in which 42 Palestinians were killed – the deadliest single attack in the latest violence between Israel and the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza.

Local media reports said the main coastal road west of the city, security compounds and open spaces were among the targets hit early Monday. The power distribution company said the airstrikes damaged a line feeding electricity from the only power plant to large parts of southern Gaza City. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

It comes after air-raid sirens sounded for the seventh consecutive day across southern Israel as Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza launched more rocket attacks into the country – and reaching further – than in the entirety of the 2014 war.

As the UN security council met in a specially convened session, foreign ministers and ambassadors called for a ceasefire and for both sides to respect international humanitarian law, but there was no sign of even a temporary truce to allow medics in Gaza to recover people – alive and dead – from under collapsed buildings.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was heading for an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”.

“The fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region,” Guterres told the UN security council on Sunday. “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.”

In a televised address, Netanyahu said Israel’s attacks were continuing at “full force” and would “take time”. Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group, he said, flanked by his defence minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.

Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One hit 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.

In the Israeli air assault early on Sunday, families were buried under piles of cement rubble and twisted metal. 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 1am.

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 people wounded.

Haya Abdelal, 21, who lives in a building next to one that was destroyed, said she was sleeping when Sunday’s 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 any more.”

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.

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 levelled 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, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP office on Saturday.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has asked the international criminal court on Sunday to investigate Israel’s bombing of the building 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 organisations had 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”.

The latest outbreak of violence began in East Jerusalem last month, when Palestinians clashed with police in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focus of the clashes was the al-Aqsa mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a hilltop compound revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

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 some of the 3,100 rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed in the fighting. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated”.

The assault has displaced about 34,000 Palestinians from their homes, UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland told an emergency meeting of the UN security council, where eight foreign ministers spoke about the conflict.

Efforts by China, Norway and Tunisia to get the UN body to issue a statement, including a call for the cessation of hostilities, have been blocked by the US, 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 to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’ “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks”.

With Associated Press


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