Israel launched dozens of air strikes on Gaza and Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave fired rocket barrages at Israeli cities as fighting spilled into a second week on Monday amid mounting international calls for a ceasefire.
But there was no sign of any imminent end to the most serious hostilities in years between Israel and the Hamas Islamists who rule the densely-populated enclave, where 2 million Palestinians live.
Roads, security buildings, militants’ training camps and houses were bombed in Israeli attacks that seemed to be focused on Gaza City, witnesses said. The sound of explosions echoed in many part of the Palestinian enclave overnight.
The Israeli military said that after rockets were fired at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon, its fighter jets struck nine residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders. Some of the homes, it said, were used for weapons storage.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side of the border.
World concern had already deepened after an Israeli air strike in Gaza that destroyed several homes on Sunday and which Palestinian health officials said killed 42 people, including 10 children, and persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
Injecting more urgency into Washington’s calls for calm, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter: “All parties need to deescalate tensions – the violence must end immediately”, after he spoke with Egypt’s foreign minister about ongoing violence in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday, the United States said it has made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it is ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s campaign in Gaza was continuing at “full force”, and that deterrence had to be achieved to prevent future conflict with Hamas.
“We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address after his security Cabinet met on Sunday.
The Gaza Health Ministry put the death toll since the hostilities flared at 197, including 58 children and 34 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.
Hamas began its rocket assault last Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Israeli military said that Hamas, a group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist movement, and other armed factions have fired more than 2,800 rockets from Gaza over the past week.
An Israeli anti-missile system intercepted many of the rockets, while some fell short of the border.
Hamas said its attacks were in retaliation for Israel’s “ongoing aggression against civilians”, including the air strike in Gaza City on Sunday that destroyed a number of homes.
The Israeli military said civilian casualties were unintentional and that its jets attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing the homes down. Hamas called it “pre-meditated killing”.
On U.S. network CBS’ “Face the Nation” programme, Netanyahu defended another Israeli air strike a day earlier that destroyed a 12-storey building where the Associated Press and the Al Jazeera TV network had offices.
He said the structure also housed the militant group’s intelligence office, making it a legitimate target. He said Israel had passed information about the building to U.S. authorities. A U.S. intelligence official did not respond to a request for comment.