An Israeli airstrike targeted and destroyed a highrise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets hours after another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family on Saturday.
The strike on the highrise came nearly an hour after the military ordered people to evacuate the 12-storey building, which also housed Al Jazeera, other offices and residential apartments.
The strike brought down the entire structure, which collapsed in a gigantic cloud of dust.
The Israeli military said it targeted the building because it contained assets of Hamas intelligence agencies, which it said were using media offices as “human shields.” It did not provide evidence for the claims.
Deadliest single strike of conflict
The earlier Israeli airstrike on the Gaza City refugee camp was the deadliest single strike of the current conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants, including Hamas.
Both sides are pressing for an advantage as ceasefire efforts gathered strength.
The latest outburst of violence started in Jerusalem and spread across the region over the past week, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel.
There were also widespread Palestinian protests on Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.
The spiralling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, at a time when there have been no peace talks in years.
Palestinians on Saturday were marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, which is how they characterize Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.
U.S. diplomat Hady Amr arrived Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the United Nations Security Council was set to meet Sunday.
But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
Death toll climbs amid conflict
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes.
In Gaza, at least 139 people have been killed, including 39 children and 22 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including the death on Saturday of a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
The strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon, after the building’s owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that it would be hit. AP’s staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.
Al Jazeera, the news network funded by Qatar’s government, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.
“This channel will not be silenced. Al Jazeera will not be silenced,” an on-air news anchor from Al Jazeera English said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”
8 children, 2 women killed
The bombardment earlier Saturday struck a three-storey house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp, killing eight children and two women from an extended family.
Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with relatives. She and three of the children, aged six to 14, were killed, while an 11-year-old is missing. Only his five-month-old son, Omar, is known to have survived.
Children’s toys and a Monopoly board game could be seen among the rubble, as well as plates of uneaten food from the holiday gathering.
“There was no warning,” said Jamal Al-Naji, a neighbour living in the same building. “You filmed people eating and then you bombed them?” he said, addressing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.
Tunnels targeted, military says
A furious Israeli barrage early Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to UN-run shelters.
The military said the operation involved 160 warplanes dropping some 80 tons of explosives over the course of 40 minutes and succeeded in destroying a vast tunnel network used by Hamas.
Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesperson, said the military aims to minimize collateral damage in striking military targets. But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time.”
Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the Israeli military said the real number is far higher.
Gaza’s infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed signs of breaking down further, compounding residents’ misery. The territory’s sole power plant is at risk of running out of fuel in the coming days.
The UN said Gazans are already enduring daily power cuts of eight to 12 hours, and at least 230,000 people have limited access to tap water. The impoverished and densely populated territory is home to two million Palestinians, most of them the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel.
The conflict has reverberated widely. Israeli cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations have seen nightly violence, with mobs from each community fighting in the streets and trashing each other’s property.
The tensions began in East Jerusalem earlier this month, with Palestinian protests against evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.