Israel strikes key Hamas targets as UN Security Council to meet

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Rafah, in the southern the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, on May 15, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
OCCUPIED JERSULAEM — Israel's occupation forces said Sunday it had bombed the home of the political leader of Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as the UN Security Council was to meet amid global alarm about the escalating conflict.اضافة اعلان

The heaviest fighting since 2014, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, saw both sides again trade heavy fire and has now claimed 174 lives in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza and killed 10 people in Israel since Monday.

Israel said Sunday morning its "continuing wave of strikes" had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across Gaza, where the destruction of a building housing news media organizations sparked international outcry.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "dismayed" by civilian casualties in Gaza and "deeply disturbed" by Israel's strike on Saturday on the tower housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera bureaus, a spokesperson said.

Israel's occupation forces said Sunday that about 2,900 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip controlled by Hamas towards Israel, "of which approximately 450 failed launches fell in the Gaza Strip". 

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted about 1,150 rockets in a week when Israeli residential buildings have been it and sirens have wailed across towns and major cities.

The bloodiest military conflict in seven years has also sparked a wave of inter-communal violence and mob attacks between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli occupation forces said it had targeted the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including by pounding a vast tunnel system with some 100 strikes, and by targeting weapon factories and storage sites.

Israeli air strikes hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas' political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said, releasing a video showing plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.

"Among the targets struck are the residences of Yahya Sinwar, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau in Gaza, as well as of his brother, Muhammad Sinwar, Head of Logistics and Manpower for Hamas," Israel's occupation forces said in a statement.

Media offices destroyed

The civilian death toll has mounted in Gaza, where at least 47 children have been killed, 1,200 people wounded and entire buildings and city blocks reduced to rubble.

The Israeli occupation forces says it takes all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians and has blamed Hamas for deliberately placing military targets in densely populated areas.

One strike on Gaza killed 10 members of an extended family.

The children "didn't carry weapons, they didn't fire rockets", said Mohammad al-Hadidi, one of the grieving fathers.

"They are sheltering in schools, mosques and other places during a global Covid-19 pandemic with limited access to water, food, hygiene and health services," UN humanitarian official Lynn Hastings said.

Balls of flame and a cloud of debris shot into the sky Saturday afternoon as Israel's air force flattened the 13-floor Gaza building housing Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the Associated Press news agency, after giving a warning to evacuate.

Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, told AFP: "It is clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth."

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said he was "shocked and horrified" by the attack.

Jawad Mehdi, the owner of the Jala Tower, said an Israeli intelligence officer had told him he had just an hour to evacuate the building.

Israeli occupation forces said the building housed not only news bureaus but offices of Hamas fighters.

AFP Chairman Fabrice Fries said the agency "stands in solidarity with all the media whose offices were destroyed in Gaza" and called on all parties "to respect the media's freedom to report on events".

 'Grave concern'

The UN Security Council was due to meet at 1400 GMT Sunday.

Israel ally Washington, which had blocked a UNSC meeting scheduled for Friday, has been criticized for not doing enough to stem the bloodshed.

US President Joe Biden again underscored Israel's right to defend itself in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden also expressed his "grave concern" over the violence as well as for the safety of journalists.

Earlier Saturday, Biden also spoke to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in their first call since the US president took office.

US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was to hold talks Sunday with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian officials to seek a "sustainable calm", the State Department said.

In a televised statement late Saturday, Netanyahu thanked Biden for "unequivocal support".

'They're striking our children'

In Gaza, the grieving father Hadidi said he had lost most of his family in a strike on a three-story building in the Shati refugee camp that killed 10 relatives -- two mothers and their four children each.

"They are striking our children -- children -- without prior warning," said the devastated father, whose five-month-old baby was also wounded in the explosion.

Palestinian fighters responded with volleys of rockets into Israel, killing a man on the outskirts of commercial capital Tel Aviv, police and medics said.

The escalating conflict was sparked by unrest in Jerusalem that had simmered for weeks and led to clashes between riot police and Palestinians, fuelled by anger over planned Israeli expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

Major clashes broke out at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound -- Islam's third-holiest site -- on May 7 following a crackdown against protests.

Mixed Jewish-Arab towns within Israel have also seen mob violence, with more than 750 people arrested this week, police said.

Israel's northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, with which it remains technically at war, were also tense.

Three rockets were launched from Syria Friday, while Israel's occupation forces said it fired "warning shots" towards potential infiltrators from Lebanon, killing a Lebanese protester.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have repeatedly staged protests across the world, including in Paris, where police used water cannon against them.

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