After Gaza’s deadliest day, Israel says it is targeting Hamas tunnels4 min read . Updated: 17 May 2021, 05:48 PM IST
- Prime Minister Netanyahu has ruled out immediate cease-fire, seeking to destroy Hamas military infrastructure
Israel launched more airstrikes early Monday in the Gaza Strip targeting what its military said was a tunnel network used by Hamas, as it tries to blunt the militant group’s ability to attack Israeli territory.
The two sides continued to trade fire despite international calls to bring the fighting to an end.
The Israeli military said a 20-minute overnight assault with 54 warplanes hit roughly 9 miles of underground passageways it says are used to ferry weapons and fighters across Gaza. Israel has dubbed the subterranean network Hamas’s “metro."
Yahya al-Sarraj, the mayor of Gaza City, the strip’s biggest population center, said the strikes hadn’t targeted military positions and instead hit roads and civil infrastructure, setting the economy back years. He called the strikes collective punishment and asked the international community to stop assaults on vital infrastructure in Gaza.
Hamas also fired scores more rockets toward Israel overnight and Monday, without causing injuries, the Israeli military said.
In total, 197 people, including 58 children and 34 women, have been killed in Gaza since last Monday, according to the Palestinian health ministry. In Israel, 11 people, including one child, have been killed, according to Israel’s emergency response service and military.
Israel has launched scores of attacks it says are targeting Hamas, but it has provided little evidence to back those claims. Many of those strikes have caused civilian casualties. Israel says it has aborted hundreds of airstrikes to avoid harming civilians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will continue to strike positions in Gaza until it has degraded Hamas’s military capabilities and hurt its capacity to wage attacks against Israelis.
Israel identified the underground tunnel network as a threat during the last significant round of fighting in 2014, prompting the Israeli military to launch a ground invasion of Gaza to find and destroy passageways leading into Israeli territory.
On Monday, an Israeli air force official said the destruction of the tunnels, which came only after Israel had targeted Hamas’s rocket manufacturing and launching capabilities first, was meant to force Hamas militants above ground, making it easier for the Israeli military to prevent their attacks against Israeli civilians.
“It’s an important part of how you fight Hamas, which has dug hundreds of kilometers of tunnels underground," the official said, adding that the Israeli air force was hitting “choke points" rather than the entire tunnel system.
The air force official said Hamas still had enough missiles and the ability to continue attacking Israel for a long time. Militants have fired more than 3,150 rockets at Israel since the conflict began last Monday.
Mr. Netanyahu has described Hamas’s decision to launch rockets toward Jerusalem a week ago as a red line, adding that the military campaign will take time.
So far, diplomatic efforts to end the fighting have made little visible headway. In recent days, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr has held meetings in Israel while Secretary of State Antony Blinken has phoned counterparts in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, calling for a cease-fire. The U.S. is working through intermediaries to reach a diplomatic solution with Hamas, which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
On Sunday, Tor Wennesland, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the international community couldn’t allow the situation to worsen. A prolonged Israeli offensive could make a cease-fire more difficult to achieve, international officials have said.
Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh said in an interview published Monday in the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar that Egypt, Qatar, Russia and the U.N. have contacted Hamas as part of efforts to reach a cease-fire. Mr. Haniyeh said in the interview that his group would only accept a solution that “rises to the sacrifices put forward by the Palestinian people." He added that Hamas was fighting not for Gaza, but for Jerusalem, and against what he called Israeli attempts to “Judaize" the city.
As part of its campaign, the Israeli military said early Monday it blew up the homes of nine Hamas commanders in a strategy to kill the militant group’s operatives and demoralize the senior leadership. Israel has said that it has killed at least 130 Hamas militants, and on Sunday targeted the home of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s political leader in Gaza. It isn’t clear how many commanders were in their homes when the sites were hit.
At least 42 people were killed in an apartment complex attack Sunday, the deadliest strike in the Israeli military operation. The destruction of the four-building complex wasn’t intentional, Israel’s military said. It said the buildings collapsed after Israeli war planes struck “underground military infrastructure," which caused the homes above it to fall.
Israeli officials have said their campaign had made significant gains, including destroying all of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket manufacturing sites. There were 31 such sites and Israel believes the groups won’t be able to produce more rockets in the short term.
Internal violence between Israeli Jews and Arabs that racked the country in recent days appeared to be dissipating Monday, Israeli officials said. The Israeli police said they had responded to more than 40,000 incidents and carried out over 900 arrests over the past week.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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