Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people on Sunday, Palestinian medics said.
But despite the heavy death toll and international efforts to broker a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled the fourth war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers would rage on.
In a televised address on Sunday evening, Netanyahu said the attacks were continuing at “full force” and will “take time.” Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” from Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, he said, standing with his political rival, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.
The Israeli air assault early Sunday was the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas nearly a week ago, marking the worst fighting here since the devastating 2014 war in Gaza.
The airstrikes hit a busy downtown street of residential buildings and storefronts over the course of five minutes just after midnight, destroying two adjacent buildings and one about 50 metres down the road.
At one point, a rescuer shouted, “Can you hear me?” into a hole in the rubble. “Are you OK?” Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out and carried him off on an orange stretcher.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 people wounded, and rescue efforts are still underway.
Hamas leader’s home targeted
Earlier, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.
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. But targeting the group’s leaders could hinder those efforts. A U.S. diplomat is in the region to try to de-escalate tensions, and the United Nations Security Council is set to meet Sunday.
Israeli airstrike destroys building housing international media offices in Gaza
Demonstrations held across Canada amid escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians
In its airstrikes, Israel has levelled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they contain Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press office and those of other media outlets.
Meanwhile, militants in Gaza fired an early-morning barrage of rockets into Israel on Sunday.
In the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Zvi Daphna, a physician whose neighbourhood has been struck 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 broke out in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focal point of clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint that is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on impoverished Gaza, which is home to more than two million Palestinians and has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Canadians with loved ones in Gaza, Israel watch with heartbreak as violence unfolds
At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.
The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fuelling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within 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 East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah — where Palestinian families have been threatened with eviction — injuring six officers before police shot and killed the attacker, Israeli police said.
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 demonstrators.
The Israeli military said Sunday it struck Sinwar’s home and that of his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. On Saturday it destroyed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’s political branch.
Hamas’s upper echelon has gone into hiding in Gaza, and it is unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes. Hamas’s top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which provide political support to the group.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged that 20 fighters have been killed since the fighting broke out on Monday. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”