Israel bombs the home of Hamas Gaza chief as fighting begins on the seventh day

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© Reuters. Smoke rises amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza on May 15, 2021. REUTERS / Suhaib Salem

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Stephen Farrell

GAZA / JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel bombed the Hamas chief’s house in Gaza early Sunday, and shortly after daybreak, sirens warned of rocket attacks in Israeli border cities as hostilities stretched for a seventh day with no sign of lessening.

At least 153 people, including 42 children, have been killed in Gaza since Monday. Israel has reported 10 deaths, including two children.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet later Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reminded all sides that “any indiscriminate orientation towards civil and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement on Saturday.

Both Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the enclave, insisted they would continue their cross-border fire after Israel destroyed a 12-story building in Gaza City that housed the U.S. Associated Press and the in Qatar-based media operations Al Jazeera were housed.

The Israeli military said the al-Jala building was a legitimate military target that contained Hamas military offices and had warned civilians beforehand to leave the building.

The AP condemned the attack and asked Israel to provide evidence. “We had no indication that Hamas was in the building or was active in the building,” it said in a statement.

In what Hamas called reprisals for Israel’s destruction of the al-Jala building, Hamas fired 120 rockets overnight, the Israeli military said. Many were intercepted and around a dozen fell short and ended up in Gaza.

Israelis stormed to bomb shelters when sirens warned of rocket fire in Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba. Around 10 people were injured when they ran into emergency shelters, medics said.

In an outbreak of air strikes early Sunday, the Israeli military said it hit the home of Yehya Al-Sinwar in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Sinwar, who was released from an Israeli prison in 2011, heads Hamas’s political and military wing in Gaza.

Another air strike killed a Gaza neurologist and wounded his wife and daughter, Palestinian medics and relatives said.

The Israeli security cabinet was due to meet early Sunday to discuss the hostilities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address late Saturday that Israel was “still in the middle of this operation, it is not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary”.

AL-AQSA

Hamas began its rocket attack Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and in retaliation for clashes by Israeli police with Palestinians near the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during the muslim holy month of ramadan.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh spoke to a crowd of demonstrators in the Qatari capital Doha late Saturday that the cause of the hostilities was Jerusalem.

“The Zionists thought … they could destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. They thought they could oust our people in Sheikh Jarrah,” Haniyeh said.

“I say to Netanyahu, don’t play with fire,” he continued, to the cheers of the crowd. “The title of this battle today, the title of the war, and the title of the Intifada is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem” using the Arabic word for “insurrection”.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status that is not universally recognized internationally. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem – conquered by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war – as the capital of a future state.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have fired more than 2,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip since Monday, the Israeli military said on Saturday.

Israel has launched more than 1,000 air and artillery strikes in the densely populated coastal strips, claiming they were aimed at Hamas and other militant targets.

WAR CRIMES

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court’s attorney general Fatou Bensouda told Reuters that the court was “keeping a close eye on” recent hostilities while investigations into suspected war crimes in previous conflict cases were ongoing.

Netanyahu accused Hamas of “committing a double war crime” by targeting civilians and using Palestinian civilians as “human shields”.

In the past few days there has been a spate of US diplomacy trying to quell the violence.

President Joe Biden’s envoy, Hady Amr, came to Israel on Friday for talks. Biden spoke to Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late Saturday, the White House said.

However, any mediation is made difficult by the fact that the United States and most Western powers do not speak to Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.

In Israel, the conflict was accompanied by violence among the country’s mixed communities of Jews and Arabs, with synagogues attacked and Arab-owned businesses destroyed.

There has also been an increase in fatal clashes in the occupied West Bank. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank since Friday, most of them in clashes.

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