Israel killed several Hamas commanders and blew up a 14-floor high-rise in the Gaza Strip as the Jewish State stepped up its military campaign on Wednesday.
“This was only the beginning. We will inflict blows on them that they have never dreamed of,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Dozens have died in the latest flare-up of violence – most of them in Gaza – which has put Hamas and Israel on the brink on all-out war.
As Israeli armed forces pounded Gaza with airstrikes, militants in the Palestinian territory carried on firing massive barrages of rockets toward Israel, where air raid sirens sounded and locals scrambled for cover.
On Wednesday evening, a rocket attack on the Israeli city of Sderot left one person in critical condition and five others with more minor injuries, rescue services said. Israeli media reported that the person with severe injuries was a 6-year-old child.
The military reported its first death in three days of fighting. A 21-year-old Israeli soldier was hit by anti-tank missile fire originating from Gaza.
Six people in Israel have now died.
Israeli planes destroyed another high-rise building in Gaza that was said to have been used by Palestinian militants.
Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants both were said to have had offices in the 14-floor building, which also housed shops and cafes.
Videos showed the building collapsing after the attack. It was the third high-rise in Gaza to be destroyed since the escalation of violence.
Israel has struck a range of targets in the Gaza Strip as part of its airstrike response to the more than 1,000 rockets Palestinian militants have launched towards its territory since Monday.
The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said at least 56 Palestinians have been killed, including 15 children, while over 300 were reported injured.
As the death toll mounted in Gaza, Israeli leaders vowed to keep up their operation until the militants were dealt a decisive blow.
The Israeli army said that members of the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant organizations were killed, including senior officials.
Israeli airstrikes have destroyed all police buildings in the Gaza Strip, a spokesperson for the Hamas-led Interior Ministry said.
Israel’s air raid warning sirens sounded once again on Wednesday in Tel Aviv, where Israel’s main international airport had halted flights and many schools were closed.
“We’re escalating towards a full-scale war,” UN Special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland tweeted. “Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation. The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people.”
Leaders in Israel and Palestine must “step back from the brink,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as the violence intensified.
The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell called for an end to conflict, singling out the plight of civilians in Gaza.
“The grave escalation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the major upsurge in violence in and around Gaza, must stop,” Borrell said in statement, adding that he was “dismayed” by the civilian deaths.
US deputy secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, was to immediately travel to the region to meet with leaders from both sides, the Biden administration announced.
The cross-border attacks between Israel and the Palestinians have also spilled into the streets.
The town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, saw major rioting overnight, with police confirming early Wednesday that a man and a teen were killed.
According to local media, Arab residents desecrated a synagogue and set it on fire. Dozens of cars were set alight and windows of stores were smashed. The mayor of Lod called it a “civil war.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin strongly condemned the riots as a “brutal attack on coexistence in the state of Israel.”
The Arab minority in Israel makes up about 20 per cent of the population of 9 million. They face discrimination, and right-wing politicians often portray them as enemies of the Jewish state.
The airstrikes and rocket attacks followed violent clashes in recent days at the Jerusalem holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.
Hamas had issued a Monday night ultimatum telling Israel to withdraw settlers and police from the Jerusalem holy site, parts of which had been cordoned off, and from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
Shortly after the deadline expired, mass rocket attacks began.
Hamas either builds its own weapons or smuggles them into the coastal area via Egypt or by sea. The group, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel and the EU, has never given figures on its rocket arsenal.
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