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Minggu, 16 Mei 2021

Deadliest strike: Attacks on Gaza City accelerate amid cease-fire attempts - Sydney Morning Herald

By Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss

Gaza City: The Gaza Health Ministry says Israeli airstrikes in the heart of Gaza City have killed at least 33 people and wounded 50 in what would be the deadliest single attack since the start of heavy fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers nearly a week ago.

Rescuers were racing to pull survivors and bodies from the rubble in the attacks, early on Sunday. Israel earlier said it bombed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader in a separate strike. It was the third such strike targeting the homes of Hamas leaders in the past two days. The Palestinian militant group ruling Gaza has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike.Credit:AP

The bloody attacks came the day after a dramatic escalation in Israeli air strikes, that included the killing of a family of 10 in a refugee camp — most of them children — and pulverising a high-rise that housed The Associated Press and other media.

US President Joe Biden, who has called for a de-escalation but has backed Israel’s campaign, spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late on Saturday. Still, Israel stepped up its assault, vowing to shatter the capabilities of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Since the conflict began, Israel has levelled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they house Hamas military infrastructure. On Saturday, it turned to the 12-storey al-Jalaa Building, where the offices of the AP, the TV network Al-Jazeera and other media outlets are located, along with several floors of apartments.

“The campaign will continue as long as it is required,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech following the attack. He alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building.

Palestinians attend the funeral of two women and eight children of the Abu Hatab family in Gaza City, who were killed by an Israeli air strike, on Saturday, May 15.

Palestinians attend the funeral of two women and eight children of the Abu Hatab family in Gaza City, who were killed by an Israeli air strike, on Saturday, May 15.Credit:AP

Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as efforts to broker a cease-fire accelerate. A US diplomat is in the region to try to de-escalate tensions, and the UN Security Council is set to meet on Sunday.

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The military said on Sunday it struck the homes of Yehiyeh Sinwar, the most senior Hamas leader inside the territory, and his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. On Saturday it destroyed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch.

Palestinians burn tires in response to Israeli forces intervention in a rally marking the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba Day.

Palestinians burn tires in response to Israeli forces intervention in a rally marking the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba Day.Credit:Getty Images

Hamas’ upper echelon has gone into hiding in Gaza, and it is unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes. Hamas’ 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 20 fighters killed since the fighting broke out last Monday, while Israel says the real number is far higher.

Officials said the death toll in Gaza jumped to 181, including 52 children, since the fighting erupted last Monday. In Israel, 10 people including two children have been killed in rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Hamas and other militant groups have fired some 2900 rockets into Israel since Monday, when tensions over a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families boiled over.

About half of those projectiles have fallen short or been intercepted, according to the Israeli military, but rockets have reached major cities and sown widespread panic. On Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck several buildings and roads in central Gaza City. Photos circulated by residents and journalists showed the airstrikes punched a crater that blocked one of the main roads leading to Shifa hospital, the largest medical centre in the strip.

The Health Ministry said the latest air strikes left at least two dead and 25 wounded, including children and women. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Israel routinely cites a Hamas presence as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also has accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to back up the claims.

The AP had operated from its building in Gaza for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. During those conflicts as well as the current one, the news agency’s cameras from its top floor office and roof terrace offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

“We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” AP president and chief executive Gary Pruitt said. “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.“

In the afternoon, the military called the building’s owner and warned a strike would come within an hour. AP staffers and other occupants evacuated safely. Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, bringing it crashing down in a giant cloud of dust.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organisations in Gaza.“

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later spoke by phone with Pruitt, offering his support for independent journalists and media organisations, and the White House said it had communicated directly with Israel to urge safety for journalists.

The tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, when Palestinians protested attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.

Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

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.

AP, Reuters

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2021-05-16 09:19:10Z
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