A Palestinian man inspects the rubble of an 12-story apartment building that collapsed the day after it was hit by missiles during an Israeli air strike in the heart of Gaza City on August 24, 2014. Photo by Thomas Coex / AFP
Israel intensifies air raids on Gaza, destroying 13-story housing unit
By AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar
August 24, 2014
Updated at 12:50 pm GMT: Israel took its military campaign to a new level over the weekend, flattening a 13-story apartment tower a day after an Egyptian call for an open-ended ceasefire to enable new truce talks.
Local residents said the high-rise housed 44 families. Medical officials said 17 people were wounded in the Israeli strike.
Israel air strikes killed at least seven Palestinians on Sunday, medical officials said.
Sunday’s air raids came after at least 60 Israeli strikes pounded Gaza on Saturday, killing 10 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and bringing down a 12-story apartment block.
But there was no immediate sign of either side adopting the ceasefire Egypt appealed for on Saturday to allow negotiators from the two sides to return to Cairo to thrash out the details of a durable truce.
Israeli aircraft hit 20 so-called “terror targets” in Gaza during the morning, while Palestinian fighters fired at least 20 rockets or mortar rounds at Israel, the army said.
An Israeli strike on the western side of Gaza City killed two Palestinians and wounded five, emergency services said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers on Sunday that the Zionist state’s brutal military campaign against Gaza would continue “until its aims are achieved.”
“Operation Protective Edge will continue until its aims are achieved… it may take time,” he said of the Gaza offensive launched on July 8, in remarks broadcast by public radio.
Israel’s stated end goals have changed several times since the beginning of its assault on Gaza.
Netanyahu also called on Gaza residents to leave any site where Palestinian resistance fighters were operating, saying the locations could be attacked.
“I call on the inhabitants of Gaza to vacate immediately every site from which Hamas is carrying out terrorist activity. Every one of these places is a target for us,” he said in broadcast remarks.
Netanyahu did not indicate where he expected Palestinians living in one of the most densely populated territories in the world to flee. Almost 500,000 Gaza residents have already fled their homes and taken refuge in hospitals, UN schools and mosques, which have been targeted by Israeli forces on multiple occasions.
Since a previous round of frantic Egyptian diplomacy collapsed last Tuesday, shattering nine days of calm, 88 Palestinians and a four-year-old Israeli boy have been killed in the violence.
The boy is the first Israeli child casualty in the conflict. At least 567 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli airstrikes and shelling since July 8.
Late on Saturday, an Israeli air strike destroyed a commercial center in the southern Gaza town of Rafah and three people were hurt, local medical staff said.
Five Palestinians, including two children, were killed in another Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza, health officials said. Seven more Palestinians were killed in other strikes, including one on a car.
In its statement on Saturday, the Egyptian foreign ministry called on “concerned parties to accept a ceasefire of unlimited duration and to resume indirect negotiations in Cairo.”
Previous ceasefires with fixed time frames have failed to give Egyptian mediators shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams enough time to broker a deal acceptable to both sides.
Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas, says any truce must provide for a lifting of Israel’s crippling eight-year blockade of the territory and the opening of a seaport and airport.
Israel, on the other hand, wants a full demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, a demand Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups reject.
Saturday’s pounding by the Israeli air force came after Netanyahu promised harsh retribution for the death of the Israeli child in a rocket strike on a kibbutz near the Gaza border.
But on Saturday, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told community leaders in the south that Israel now needed to look for a diplomatic solution to the rocket fire, adding that it would be doing so from a position of strength.
“I am convinced the other side in its condition needs a ceasefire more than we do,” Yaalon said.
“We need to see that we direct things diplomatically… to a place in which we’ll achieve quiet and security for a longer period,” he said.
The invitation to new truce talks came after a meeting on Saturday between Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“What interests us now is putting a stop to the bloodshed,” Abbas said.
“As soon as a ceasefire goes into effect, the two sides can sit down and discuss their demands,” he said, adding that, as in previous rounds of talks, Hamas would be represented in the Palestinian delegation.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that “any proposal offered to the movement will be discussed.”
Abbas held two rounds of talks in Qatar on Thursday and Friday with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal before heading to Cairo.
Hamas leaders said on Saturday they had signed off on Abbas’ bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that could open Israel to war crime probes over the Gaza conflict.
If the Palestinians were to sign the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the court would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. An investigation could then examine events as far back as mid-2002.
At least 2,110 Palestinians and 68 people on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have been killed since the conflict erupted on July 8.
More than 10,660 Palestinians have been injured in the same time span.
The UN says 70 percent of the Palestinians who have died were civilians, and that among the dead were at least 478 children.
Around 460,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza ‒ more than a quarter of the enclave’s 1.8 million population.