Israel on Sunday stepped up airstrikes on Gaza as it bombed the home of Yehiyeh Sinwar, the leader of the Hamas militant group in the Palestinian territory.
The aerial bombardment also destroyed three properties in downtown Gaza City, killing at least 26 people, including eight children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Another 50 people were wounded.
The pre-dawn strikes were the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out nearly a week ago.
Hamas, meanwhile, continued to launch a barrage of rockets towards southern Israel, as hopes faded of a deescalation in the renewed Middle East crisis.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh insisted the militant group will not back down. During a pro-Palestinian rally on Saturday in Doha, Qatar, he said as Israeli attacks continue, “the resistance will increase [its force] to a higher level.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said his military will strike Gaza for “as long as necessary.”
Hamas leader’s home targeted
Israel’s military said early Sunday it bombed the Gaza home of Yehiyeh Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing, saying that the structure was a part of the group’s “military” infrastructure.
The army released a video showing the damage but there was no immediate clarity about casualties.
The home of Sinwar’s brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member, was also struck.
On Saturday, Israel said it destroyed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch.
Israeli strike on media offices denounced
Israel hammered Gaza with airstrikes on Saturday, targeting a home in the al-Shati refugee camp, which killed 10 people. Israel also flattened a high-rise in Gaza City which held offices of major news outlets such as Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press (AP).
In both cases, the Israeli military claimed it was hitting targets affiliated with Hamas.
Al-Jazeera slammed the attack, claiming it was an attempt to silence the media and characterizing the airstrike as a crime “perpetrated by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip.”
AP CEO Gary Pruitt said he was “shocked” by the attack.
In a later statement, AP called on Israel to provide evidence that Hamas was operating in the building. The news agency said it “had seen no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building” where its Gaza bureau was located.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Pruitt on Saturday to express his support for media reporting on combat zones.
The Foreign Press Association said in a statement that the strike on the media offices “raises deeply worrying questions about Israel’s willingness to interfere with the freedom of the press to operate.”
It warned that the safety of other news bureaus in Gaza is “now in question.”
Berlin urges an end to the violence
On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on Twitter of a “highly explosive mixture” that could lead to “unpredictable consequences.” He called for an end to the violence and a return to talks for a two-state solution.
Pope Francis joined the international chorus calling for the conflict to cease, saying the deaths of so many innocent people in recent days, including children, was unacceptable.
“Their death is a sign that (people) don’t want to build a future, but destroy it … I wonder where hatred and revenge will lead?” he said in a weekly address to faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
The United Nations Security Council will convene in a closed-door session later Sunday to discuss the conflict.
Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers are expected to hold urgent talks on the fighting on Tuesday.
“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation opened an emergency meeting Sunday, in the first major move among Mideast nations still grappling with how to address the conflict.
As the talks got underway, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud condemned Israel’s “flagrant violations” of Palestinian rights and called on the international community to act urgently to put an end to military operations.