Gaza City (Gaza Strip): Israel killed a string of senior Hamas military figures Wednesday and pounded three multistory towers as it hammered the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and militants in the territory fired rocket barrages.
Dozens have died in the worst violence since a 2014 war, with no resolution in sight. So what is the issue between Israel and Palestine in 2021?
The fighting has taken on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, but with a startling new factor: a burst of fury from Israel’s Palestinian citizens in support of those living in the territories as well as counterviolence by Jewish Israelis.
In response, Israel deployed border guards in two mixed Arab-Jewish cities that saw unrest in previous days, including the burning of a Jewish-owned restaurant and a synagogue, the fatal shooting of an Arab man and attacks on Arab-owned cars.
It was a rare use of the paramilitary force, which normally puts down protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Palls of gray smoke rose in Gaza, as Israeli airstrikes struck apartment towers and blasted multiple Hamas security installations.
In Israel, hundreds of rockets fired by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants at times overwhelmed missile defenses and sent air-raid sirens and explosions echoing across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 65 Palestinians, including 16 children and five women, according to the Health Ministry. At least 365 have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women.
Seven have been killed on the Israeli side by rocket fire, including the first death of an Israeli soldier in this round of conflict.
The other deaths have been civilians, including three women and two children, one of them a 6-year-old killed in a rocket strike on an apartment building in the city of Sderot. Dozens in Israel have been wounded.
Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven members, and Hamas confirmed the death of a top commander and an unspecific number of others.
The Israeli military says at least 30 Palestinians killed so far were militants.
There was no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying it will take time. Hamas has called for a full-scale intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising began in 2000 and lasted more than five years.
The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday, escalating the ground tensions into a new Israel-Hamas punching match.
Since then, militants have fired more 1,050 rockets from Gaza, according to the Israeli military, and Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in the tiny territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
On Wednesday, Israel stepped up its targeting of Hamas’ military wing. The military and internal security agency said they carried out a complex and first-of-its-kind operation that killed the Hamas commander in charge of Gaza City, the highest-ranking Hamas military figure killed by Israel since 2014, and several other senior militants involved in rocket production.
Israel has struck 350 targets and killed at least 30 militants since Monday night, 14 of them on Wednesday, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.
In one of the fiercest attacks, Israeli fighter jets dropped two bombs on a 14-story building in Gaza City, collapsing it. The building, located on the busiest shopping street in the Roman neighborhood, housed businesses in addition to offices for Hamas’ Al-Aqsa satellite channel.
Airstrikes also brought down a 12-story office building that housed Hamas offices as well as other businesses, and heavily damaged a nine-story building with residential apartments, medical companies, a dental clinic and, Israel said, Hamas intelligence offices. In both cases, Israel fired warning shots, allowing people to flee.
Soon after, Hamas fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba in what it said was retaliation.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a moment of horror by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, ages 3 to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
There is almost no safe place in Gaza, she said.
One strike hit a taxi in Gaza City, killing a man, woman and driver insider, and a second strike killed two men nearby on the street, witnesses who brought the bodies told The Associated Press at the hospital. Several other bystanders were wounded.
In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old Arab Israeli citizen and his 16-year-old daughter were killed when a rocket from Gaza hit the courtyard of their home. An Israeli soldier was killed in a strike by an anti-tank missile from Gaza. (AP)