Israeli strike in Gaza destroys building with media
Israel struck the Gaza Strip with airstrikes on Saturday, in a dramatic escalation that included the bombing of the home of a top Hamas leader, killing 10 family members in a refugee camp – most of them children – and spraying a building that housed the Associated Press and other media.
The Hamas militant group continued a flood of rocket volleys at Israel, including a late night barrage on Tel Aviv. A man was killed when a rocket hit his home in a suburb of the seaside metropolis.
With an American envoy on the ground, calls for a ceasefire have increased after five days of chaos that left at least 145 Palestinians dead in Gaza – including 41 children and 23 women – and eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one civilians, including a 5 year old child. President Biden, who called for a de-escalation but supported Israel’s campaign, spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Yet Israel has stepped up its assault, vowing to shatter the capabilities of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. The week of deadly violence, unleashed by a Hamas rocket on Monday, came after weeks of mounting tensions and tough Israeli action in Jerusalem.
On Saturday, Israel bombed the home of Khalil Hayeh, a senior official in Hamas’s political wing, claiming the building was part of the group’s “terrorist infrastructure”. There was no immediate report on Hayeh’s fate or any casualties.
The bombing of Hayeh’s house showed that Israel was extending its campaign beyond the group’s military commanders alone. Israel says it has killed dozens of people in Hamas’s military wing, although Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group have only acknowledged 20 dead.
Since the start of the conflict, Israel has razed a number of the tallest office and residential buildings in Gaza City, alleging that they housed elements of Hamas’ military infrastructure. On Saturday, he turned to the 12-story Jalaa building, where the offices of the PA, Al Jazeera TV station and other media are located, as well as several floors of apartments.
“The campaign will continue for as long as necessary,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech on Saturday night. He alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building. Israel regularly cites the presence of Hamas as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to support these claims.
The PA has operated from the building for 15 years, including in three previous wars between Israel and Hamas, without being directly targeted. During these and current conflicts, the news agency‘s cameras from its top-floor office and rooftop terrace offered 24-hour live footage as militants’ rockets arched towards Israel and that Israeli airstrikes were pounding the city and its surroundings.
In the afternoon, the military called the owner of the building and warned that a strike would occur within an hour. PA personnel and other occupants were safely evacuated.
Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, causing it to crash into a giant cloud of dust.
“The world will know less about what is going on in Gaza because of what happened today,” said Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military is targeting and destroying the building housing the PA office and other news agencies in Gaza.
“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life, ”he said, adding that the PA was seeking information from the Israeli government and had engaged with the US State Department to find out more.
Mostefa Souag, acting managing director of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a “war crime” aimed at “silencing the media and hiding the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza.”
Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the United States has “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a primary responsibility “.
In the early hours of Saturday, another airstrike hit a building in the densely populated Shati refugee camp in Gaza, killing two women and eight children.
Mohammed Hadidi told reporters that his wife and his brother’s wife gathered at home with their children to celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Fitr ending the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The only survivor was Hadidi’s 5-month-old son, Omar.
The explosion left the children’s room covered in rubble and destroyed the living room. In the middle of the wreckage were children’s toys, a Monopoly board game, and, sitting on the kitchen counter, unfinished plates of holiday party food.
“There was no warning … Did you film people eating and then bomb them?” Said a neighbor, Jamal Naji, referring to Israel’s surveillance of the Gaza Strip.
The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his appeal with Netanyahu, Biden expressed “strong support” for Israel’s campaign but raised concerns about civilian casualties and the protection of journalists, the White House said.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III tweeted on Saturday that he had spoken again with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and reaffirmed Israel’s right to self-defense and condemned “deliberate targeting of Hamas against Israeli citizens ”. Austin added: “I also expressed my hope that calm can be restored soon.”
The bombings came a day after US diplomat Hady Amr arrived in Israel as part of Washington’s efforts to defuse the conflict. Israel rejected an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas leaders had accepted, an Egyptian intelligence official said on Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
Egyptian mediators, who work closely with Israel on security issues and share a border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, seemed increasingly alarmed. The intelligence official said Egypt hopes that the US intervention could put an end to the Israeli assault. The UN Security Council was due to meet on Sunday.
Tensions began in East Jerusalem this month, when Palestinians protested settler attempts to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police actions at Al Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flash point located on a hill in the old city revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem on Monday evening, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza. Since then, Hamas has fired more than 2,000 rockets, although most have failed or have been intercepted by missile defenses. Israel’s warplanes and artillery struck hundreds of targets around stranded Gaza, home to some 2 million Palestinians.
The turmoil has spread elsewhere as well, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and fueling violence in Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
Palestinians celebrated Nakba Day, or “the day of disaster,” on Saturday, commemorating the estimated 700,000 people who were evicted or fled from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel. Thousands of Arab Israelis marched at a Nakba rally in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin, and scattered protests took place in the West Bank.
Palestinian health officials on Saturday reported the deaths of two Palestinians by Israeli gunfire in the West Bank. One of the shootings occurred when the military said it foiled an alleged car crash.