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Israel bombed the house of Hamas’ Gaza leader and obliterated a family’s home in Gaza as Hamas launched more than 100 rockets toward Israel on Sunday, marking the deadliest day of the week-long conflict so far, according to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza and Israeli authorities.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had bombed the house of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader since 2017, in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis neighborhood early Sunday morning. IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman told local media that Sinwar had been unhurt in the airstrike.
Two Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed at least 43 Palestinians – including eight children – and injured 50 others, most of whom were women and children early Sunday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. With the latest casualties, the death toll in Gaza has climbed to a total of 197, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza this week, at least 1,235 Palestinians have been injured, with the number expected to rise, the health ministry said, as paramedics continue to carry out search operations. Ten Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza, according to the IDF.
Airstrikes continued into the early hours of Monday morning in Gaza. The Israeli Air Force said on Twitter its fighter jets had targeted nine residences that it said belonged to high-ranking Hamas commanders in Gaza. Israel claimed the homes were being used as “terror infrastructure” and some were used to store weapons. The IDF said in a separate tweet that fighter jets targeted a tunnel located near a kindergarten and mosque in southern Gaza. The IDF accused Hamas of “deliberately” placing military assets in “the heart of its civilian population.”
Palestinian medical and civil defense teams said they rescued five children from the rubble on Sunday morning. Scenes of the rescue operation show a young girl with a bloodied head injury lifted from the wreckage by a team of paramedics. Her expression alternates between shock and horror.
The IDF said in a Twitter post on Sunday morning that Hamas’ militant wing had fired 120 rockets between 7 p.m Saturday and 7 a.m. local time Sunday, of which 11 fell in Gaza. IDF spokesperson Zilberman added Sunday that they had targeted dozens of rocket launchers, with the ability to fire multiple rockets at a time.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a Tweet on Saturday that “Israel has no interest in escalation, but is ready for any scenario,” echoing an Israeli military official, who said on Friday that Israel is prepared to continue hitting “quality targets” for an “extended period of time.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored that resolve on Sunday, saying that he will do “whatever it takes to restore order,” and that “it will take some time.” On Saturday, Netanyahu said it will “respond forcefully” in Gaza “until the security of our people is reinstated and restored,” and said the country is trying to avoid civilian casualties from its strikes.
The IDF on Sunday released photos allegedly showing Hamas rocket installations and tunnel entrances placed in close proximity to civilian infrastructure like hospitals and schools, claiming that “Hamas deliberately and systematically places military targets within the civilian population, exposing their citizens to danger.”
The recent conflict began at the start of last week, fueled by controversy over planned evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and restrictions at a popular meeting point near the Old City.
It has since escalated rapidly into one of the worst rounds of violence the area has seen since the 2014 Gaza War, which saw more than 2,200 Gazans killed during the fighting, approximately half of them civilians, including more than 550 children, according to a United Nations report.
On Sunday, six Israeli Border Police officers were injured in Sheikh Jarrah after a car “hit and ran over” officers stationed at a police checkpoint, a police spokesperson said. The driver, a 42-year-old male, was “shot and killed,” according to Israeli emergency services.
While not claiming responsibility for the attack, Hamas’ military wing described the incident as a “heroic run-over operation” which they say was carried out by a young Palestinian man.
Rioting and violent clashes between Arab and Jewish citizens have also spilled out across several Israeli cities in the past week, including Lod, Bat Yam and Acre, leading Netanyahu to warn against “lynching” by either community. And that violence has boiled over to the occupied West Bank, where on Friday, at least 11 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during violent clashes, marking the largest number of people killed in a single day in the West Bank in years, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry.
In a statement, UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was “dismayed” by the rising number of civilian casualties. “The Secretary-General reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs,” the statement said.
US President Joe Biden spoke with both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. In his call with the Israeli leader, Biden “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas,” and also expressed his concern for the Palestinian people. Abbas, in a readout after the phone call with the American President, called on him to intervene in putting an end to “Israeli attack on Palestinian people everywhere.”
Early Saturday, a 5-month-old baby named Omar was the lone survivor in a house that was hit and destroyed in an Israeli airstrike hit in the al-Shati refugee camp, killing 10 members of the his family – including eight children, according to the infant’s father Mohammad Hadidi. At least 20 other Palestinians were wounded after several nearby houses were damaged in the Israeli airstrike, the Palestinian News Agency WAFA reported.
Hadidi told CNN that his wife had taken their four children – who were mourning the recent loss of another family member – to their uncle’s house on Saturday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. “We had a martyr in the family that was killed on the first day of Eid, so the kids didn’t get the chance to celebrate or wear their new clothes, so their mother took them to her brother’s house and stayed there overnight,” Hadidi said.
“They were so happy to get away from the grief, but they didn’t know it was their turn,” he said. Hadidi lost his wife, three children, and his brother and sister-in-law and their four children in the strike. “They didn’t do anything bad to anyone, they were looking for a happy place to celebrate Eid, Hadidi said, crying: “What were they punished for?”
Militants in Gaza responded to the airstrikes on the refugee camp on Saturday with rockets targeting the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Ashdod, and Sderot. A 55-year-old Israeli man was killed early Saturday afternoon after a rocket hit a series of buildings in a residential area in a Tel Aviv suburb called Ramat Gan, bringing Israel’s death toll to 10, according to Israel’s emergency service.
Shortly after, the Jala’a building – which contained offices for international media outlets Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, among others – was hit by an Israeli airstrike.
Speaking on Sunday, Netanyahu said that the building was “a perfectly legitimate target,” adding:
“One of the, I think, AP journalists said we were lucky to get out. No, you weren’t lucky to get out. It wasn’t luck. It’s because we took special pains to call people in those buildings, to make sure that the premises were vacated,” he said.
The AP said in a statement that they were “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” and said that they “have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”
“This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk,” AP said.
AP has called on the Israeli government, who says the building contained Hamas military intelligent assets, to “put forward the evidence.”
“This strike is an incredibly disturbing development,” the statement added, concluding: “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what transpired today.”
Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that works to protect journalists around the world, said in a statement it was calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate. RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a statement on the group’s website that “deliberately targeting media outlets constitutes a war crime.” He also said the Israeli strikes were “obstructing media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population.”
Israel itself is not a state-party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC in 2002.
CNN’s Kara Fox, Ibrahim Dahman, Mick Krever, Kareem El Damanhoury, Tamara Qiblawi and Richard Roth contributed to this report.