Gaza reels after Israeli strikes as death toll surpasses 200

Published May 17, 2021
Palestinian men remove salvageable items from the bombarded Al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza City on May 17, five days after it was targeted by Israeli airstrikes. — AFP
Palestinian men remove salvageable items from the bombarded Al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza City on May 17, five days after it was targeted by Israeli airstrikes. — AFP

Gaza residents cowered indoors on Monday after Israeli jets pounded the enclave, as violence that has killed more than 200 people — overwhelmingly Palestinian — entered a second week.

Before dawn, in the space of just a few minutes, dozens of Israeli strikes bombarded the crowded Palestinian coastal strip controlled by Hamas, according to AFP journalists and the army.

Flames lit up the sky as intense explosions shook Gaza city, sparking widespread power cuts and damaging hundreds of buildings, local authorities said.

Some 3,100 rockets have also been fired by Palestinian fighters toward Israel since the violence escalated on May 10 in the heaviest exchange of fire between the rivals in years, sparked by Israeli violence in Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, an AFP reporter in Gaza saw huge plumes of grey smoke billow from a mattress factory, as civil defence members aimed high-pressure water hoses at the blaze.

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As well as strikes from the air, Israeli artillery guns surrounding Gaza have also been firing barrages of shells.

Later in the day, dust clouds rose from near Gaza's port from further explosions.

West Gaza resident Mahdi Abed Rabbo, 39, expressed “horror and fear” at the intensity of the onslaught.

“There have never been strikes of this magnitude,” he said.

Gaza resident Mani Qazaat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should realise we're civilians, not fighters”.

“I felt like I was dying,” he said.

2,500 homeless

Israel's army said on Monday it hit the homes of nine “high-ranking” Hamas commanders, a day after strikes on the house of Yahya Sinwar, head of the group's political wing.

It gave no details of any casualties.

On Monday, an Islamic Jihad commander was killed, a source within the group and the Israeli army said.

The Israeli army also said its fighter jets hit what the army calls the “Metro”, its term for 15 kilometres (nine miles) of Hamas underground tunnels, which the army has previously acknowledged runs in part through civilian areas.

The renewed strikes come a day after 42 Palestinians in Gaza — including at least eight children and two doctors, according to the health ministry — were killed in the worst daily death toll in the enclave since the bombardments began.

In total, 198 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 58 children, and more than 1,200 wounded since Israel launched its air campaign against Hamas on May 10 after the group fired rockets, according to the authorities there.

Israel says 10 people, including one child, have been killed and 294 wounded by rocket fire launched by armed groups in Gaza.

The army said about 3,100 rockets had been fired in the past week from Gaza — the highest rate ever recorded — but added its Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over 1,000.

Netanyahu said in a televised address on Sunday that Israel's “campaign against the terrorist organisations is continuing with full force” and would “take time” to finish.

Israeli bombardment of Gaza has displaced 38,000 people and made 2,500 homeless, the United Nations says.

It has also battered infrastructure in the enclave, with the electricity authority on Monday warning it only had enough fuel left to provide power for another two to three days.

On Saturday, Israel gave journalists from Al Jazeera and AP news agency an hour to evacuate their offices before launching air strikes, turning their tower block into piles of smoking rubble.

Netanyahu on Sunday said the building also hosted a Palestinian “terrorist” intelligence office, and claimed it was a “perfectly legitimate target”.

Inter-communal clashes

The violence between Hamas and Israel is the worst since 2014, when Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip with the stated aim of ending rocket fire and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.

The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Opening the first session of the UN Security Council on the renewed violence on Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the fighting “utterly appalling”.

“It must stop immediately,” he said.

But the UN talks, already delayed by Israel's ally the United States, resulted in little action, with Washington opposing a resolution.

President Joe Biden's administration says it is working behind the scenes, and that a Security Council statement could backfire.

Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinians since May 10.

Clashes broke out at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound — one of Islam's holiest sites — on May 7 after Israeli forces moved in on worshippers, following a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Sheikh Jarrah has been at the heart of the flareup, seeing weeks of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

The Israeli police said a car-ramming attack in Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday wounded seven police officers, and that Israeli forces had killed the attacker.

Police also arrested several people amid clashes in another east Jerusalem neighbourhood overnight Sunday.

Guterres warned the fighting could have far-reaching consequences if not stopped immediately.

“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole.”

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