Gaza City (Gaza Strip), May 18: Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, levelling a six-story building, and militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Tuesday.
Palestinians across the region observed a general strike as the war, now in its second week, showed no signs of abating.
The strikes toppled a building that housed libraries and educational centres belonging to the Islamic University. Seen from roof height, the destruction loomed as a massive valley of rebar and concrete slabs. Desks, office chairs, books and computer wires could be seen peeking from the debris. Residents sifted through the rubble, searching for their belongings.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the overnight strikes.
Heavy fighting broke out May 10 when Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests there against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank observed a general strike on Tuesday to protest what many activists and some human rights groups say is a single system of apartheid of which the Gaza war is only one manifestation. Israel adamantly rejects that characterization and accuses Hamas of inciting violence across the region.
The strike was called by leaders of the Palestinian community inside Israel, which makes up 20% of the country’s population, and embraced by the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, where ministries and schools were closed. Most businesses appeared to be observing the strike, and protests were expected.
Last week Israel saw an outbreak of ethnic violence, with groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and torching vehicles and buildings. In the West Bank, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli troops and paramilitary Border Police.
The Israeli military said Tuesday it fired more than 100 munitions at 65 militant targets, including rocket launchers, a group of fighters and the homes of Hamas commanders that the army said were being used for military purposes. It said more than 60 fighter jets took part in the operation.
The military said Palestinian militants fired 90 rockets, 20 of which fell short into Gaza. Israel says its missile defenses have a 90% interception rate.
The military said it also shot down a drone approaching the Israeli border in the northeast, far from the Gaza fighting. It did not say where the unmanned aircraft originated, but it’s possible the drone came from Syria.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes so far, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.
Israel says it has inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ military infrastructure, including a vast network of militant tunnels it refers to as the Metro.
The strikes have brought down several buildings and caused widespread damage in the narrow coastal territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Israeli airstrikes and shelling have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and entirely destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organisation said in a new report. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out.
It said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa Hospital, has hindered the movement of ambulances and supply vehicles. Over 41,000 displaced Palestinians have sought refuge in UN schools in Gaza, which was already struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak.
Israel has vowed to press on with its operations, and the US signalled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire even as President Joe Biden said he supported one.
We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after meeting with top security officials on Monday.
Protests were expected across the region Tuesday in response to a call by Palestinian citizens of Israel for a general strike. The protest has the support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
The Biden administration has declined so far to publicly criticise Israel’s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region. On Monday, the United States again blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement calling for an end to the crisis related to Gaza and the protection of civilians, especially children.
Since the fighting began, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,400 rockets into Israel.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 160 and has released the names of and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were eliminated. The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, does not give a breakdown of how many casualties were militants or civilians.
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.
Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hasn’t yet seen any evidence supporting Israel’s claim.
AP President Gary Pruitt called for an independent investigation into the attack.
As we have said, we have no indication of a Hamas presence in the building, nor were we warned of any such possible presence before the airstrike, he said in a statement. This is something we check as best we can. We do not know what the Israeli evidence shows, and we want to know. (AP)