CITY OF GAZA, Gaza Strip – The Israeli military launched a wave of heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Monday, saying it had destroyed 15 kilometers of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders.
Residents of Gaza woke up by a nightmare described it as the worst since the war began a week ago, and even more powerful than the wave of airstrikes in Gaza City the day before, which left 42 dead and razed three buildings.
There has been no immediate news of casualties since recent strikes. A three-story building in the city of Gaza was badly damaged, but residents said the army had warned them 10 minutes before the strike and that everyone had cleared up. They said many airstrikes hit nearby farmland.
Gaza Mayor Yahya Sarraj told Al-Jazeera TV that the airstrikes caused great damage to roads and other infrastructure. “If the aggression continues, we expect the conditions to get worse,” he said.
He also warned that there is a lack of fuel and other spare parts in the territory. The UN has warned that the only power plant in Gaza is in danger of running out of fuel. The territory already has daily power outages of 8-12 hours, and tap water is not drunk.
The war broke out last Monday, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after days of clashes in the Holy City between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests focused on heavy police at the site with a flash during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatening eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Since then, the Israeli army has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 3,100 rockets at Israel.
At least 188 Palestinians were killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 wounded. Eight people in Israel were killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.
“I have not seen this level of destruction during my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an ambulance officer in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war,” he added, referring to the most devastating of the four wars waged between Israel and Hamas.
The military said it had hit nine houses in different parts of northern Gaza that belonged to “high-ranking commanders” in Hamas, an Islamic militant group that has controlled the territory since it took power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
In recent days, Israel has targeted the homes of a number of senior Hamas leaders, including Yehiyeh Sinwar, the highest leader in Gaza. The leadership of the group goes illegal when the fighting starts and it is unlikely that anyone was at home at the time of the strike.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is much higher and has released the names and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says have been “eliminated”.
The military said it hit 35 “terrorist targets”, as well as tunnels, which it said were part of an elaborate system called the “metro”, which the fighters used to evade the plane. The army says 54 planes took part in the operation.
In a televised address Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli attacks were continuing “in full force” and would “take time.” Israel “wants to charge a high price” to the militant group Hamas.
Hamas Supreme Leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said the group had been contacted by the United States, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of a ceasefire effort, but “will not accept a solution that does not depend on the Palestinian people’s victims.”
In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, he blamed Israeli actions in Jerusalem for the war and boasted that the rockets “paralyzed the usurping entity (Israel) by imposing a curfew on citizens and closing airports and ports.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his government was working to “urgently” end the violence, in his first comments since the war broke out. Egypt, bordering Gaza and Israel, played a central role in the ceasefire that mediated after previous rounds of fighting.
Israeli airstrikes toppled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel claims contain Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing the Associated Press Gaza office and other media buildings.
Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP’s office on Saturday. The Israeli military warned staff and residents before the strike and they all managed to evacuate the building safely.
Netanyahu claimed that Hamas military intelligence operated within the building and said on Sunday that all evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say anyone was seen.
The AP operated from the building for 15 years, including three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. News agency cameras, operating from the top-floor office and from the rooftop terrace, offered 24-hour live footage as militant rockets hovered toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes forged the city and surrounding area.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt issued a statement after Saturday’s attack saying he was “shocked and horrified” that Israel was targeting the building. He said the AP had “no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”
“It simply came to our notice then. We would never consciously put our journalists at risk. ”
Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue of Beirut and Samy Magdy of Cairo contributed.