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The Israeli military pounded Gaza with airstrikes on Monday, saying it was targeting the homes and infrastructure of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “to continue to strike at the targets of terrorism.”
The Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said 212 people had been killed and 1,400 others injured since violence flared last week, in what has become the most serious Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in years. Sixty-one children and 36 women are among the dead, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Hamas rocket fire from Gaza has killed at least 10 people in Israel, including two children, since the start of the flareup, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
On Monday, a fresh barrage of rockets from Gaza once again set off sirens and sent Israelis fleeing into bomb shelters in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. At least one residential building in Ashdod was hit, the IDF said. Three people were slightly injured, according to the Israeli Red Cross.
The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday released photos purporting to show Hamas rocket installations and tunnel entrances placed in close proximity to civilian infrastructure like hospitals and schools. The IDF said that “Hamas deliberately and systematically places military targets within the civilian population, exposing their citizens to danger.”
A health clinic hit
Dozens of Israeli jets bombed more than nine miles of Hamas’ tunnel system in Gaza overnight and targeted 14 residences Monday that the Israeli military said belonged to commanders from the Palestinian militant group.
Hamas authorities and video from the ground showed a health clinic in Gaza City damaged by an Israeli airstrike on a nearby target, its windows blown out. The Ministry of Health in Gaza said the clinic was one of its main coronavirus testing centers.
At least two floors of the nearby building that was targeted were destroyed, according to a CNN journalist on the scene. The Qatar Red Crescent reported damage to its office inside the building.
The ministry earlier warned Monday that Israeli strikes on homes, medical facilities and infrastructure had created the conditions for an “upcoming wave” of Covid-19 cases, and that those fleeing to shelters would be “exposed to the spread of infectious diseases, especially the danger of spread of the coronavirus.”
Netanyhau met with leaders from the IDF and the country’s security services, saying in a video statement that the IDF was “doing well.” “Today (the IDF) has eliminated another senior Islamic Jihad commander, we have hit the Hamas naval unit, and we continue to strike at the underground medium, the Hamas ‘metro,’ and there are other targets.
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health in the West Bank condemned the strike on the tunnel system and said that its local administrative office was also damaged. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in the attack, nor what the IDF was targeting.
Israel’s military earlier said it had struck more targets in Gaza in the past week than it did in all of 2020.
Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, IDF spokesperson, told Israeli Channel 13 News that the IDF believes it has destroyed 80-90% of the rocket manufacturing capacity in Gaza. “This includes the engineers and developers as well,” he said.
About 3,150 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israeli territory since last Monday, though the Israeli military said many had either fallen short or been intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system.
Call for a truce grow louder
According to the UN, the conflict has left more than 2,500 Palestinians without homes and more than 38,000 are internally displaced.
Many are sheltering in 16 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a recorded statement.
“We continue to actively engage all sides towards an immediate cessation of fire between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
During an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday, Guterres pleaded for peace lest an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis” erupt that would “further foster extremism” in Israel, the Palestinian territories and the region writ large.
The US has continued to block the UN Security Council from making a statement on the conflict. But President Joe Biden voiced support for a ceasefire Monday during a telephone call with Netanyahu on Monday. The US President “expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” a White House description of the call read.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held five calls with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, France, Qatar, Egypt, and Pakistan during a flight to Copenhagen.
Egypt and Qatar’s efforts to broker a truce have stalled over two main points, a senior Hamas leader with direct knowledge of meditation efforts told CNN on Sunday.
One stumbling block is Israel’s insistence that Hamas must initiate the ceasefire, at least three hours before Israel, at which point Israel would follow. Hamas flatly rejected this proposal, the Hamas leader said.
The other hurdle is Hamas’ insistence that any ceasefire must include the ending of Israel’s “provocations” at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a resolution of the Sheikh Jarrah eviction threat, the Hamas source said.
Foreign media offices demolished
Israel also found itself on the defensive over the weekend after it levelled a Gaza building containing offices for international media outlets Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. The Israeli military said the building contained Hamas military intelligence assets, a claim that Hamas has denied.
A senior IDF official also defended the strike in a background briefing to reporters. Asked why Israeli forces did not carry out a more targeted strike on part of the building, rather than demolishing all it, the official argued that such “surgical hits” would put more civilians at risk.
“We absolutely deny the Israeli occupation claims that Hamas had offices in Al Jalaa Building,” Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesperson, said in a statement.
“We stress that these are false claims and an attempt to justify the crime of targeting a civilian facility that included media offices for international channels such as Al Jazeera and the American Associated Press, in addition to residential apartments,” he added.
Israel says it has shared information with the United States justifying its airstrike on a Gaza high-rise that housed the offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. But just which American officials have seen that evidence, and whether they find it credible, remained an open question Monday.
Blinken says he hadn’t seen it. The National Security Council did not comment, instead referring to intelligence channels. And the White House said it couldn’t provide any indication of whether the intelligence had even been received.
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,” and that the Israeli strikes were “obstructing media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population.”
Rashard Rose contributed to this report from Washington.