Israeli warplanes unleashed a fierce air bombardment on Gaza City before dawn on Monday as Hamas militants in the coastal enclave continued to target towns in southern Isreal with barrages of missiles, bringing the conflict into a second, grinding week of bloodshed and destruction.
Stepped-up diplomatic efforts led by the United States and a meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the weekend showed little sign of progress. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, speaking on Sunday, said the operation would “take time.”
“We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet,” Mr. Netanyahu said during a television appearance.
The overnight bombardment came after the deadliest day of the conflict, which included a strike in Gaza City that left three buildings flattened and killed at least 42 people.
The Israeli military said it had been targeting the warren of tunnels used by militants that runs beneath the city and that when the tunnels collapsed, the buildings came tumbling down as well.
Among the dead, yet again, were children. At least 10 in this location. In the past week, of the nearly 200 Palestinians who have died, nearly half have been women and children, sparking condemnation across the world and helping to fan protests, which have taken place in recent days from London to Baghdad to Berlin.
Regional conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians have periodically become conflated with tensions among Europe’s sometimes polarized communities, particularly in countries like France with large Muslim and Jewish communities. Concerns were growing that anger against Israel was boiling over into anti-Semitic violence.
But even under sustained military bombardment, Hamas militants based in Gaza continued to unleash a barrage of missiles into southern Israel — more than 3,100 since the start of the conflict a week ago, according to the Israeli military.
Many of the rockets were intercepted yet again by the Israeli defense system known as the Iron Dome.
Overnight Monday — like every night for the past week — two battles were waged: one in the skies above and another in the tunnels below Gaza.
Israeli experts often describe periodic campaigns as “mowing the grass,” with the aim of curbing rocket fire, destroying as much of the militant groups’ infrastructure as possible and restoring deterrence. Critics say the use of such terminology is dehumanizing to Palestinians and tends to minimize the toll on civilians as well as militants.
The Israeli army said 54 Israeli warplanes took part in the attack using 110 rockets and bombs as they attacked around 35 targets for a period of 20 minutes.
Much of the assault was directed at a network of underground tunnels used by Hamas to move people and equipment — a subterranean transit system that the Israel military refers to as “the metro.”
During the operation, the army said, a tunnel route around 50 feet long was destroyed. Warplanes also targeted the homes of Hamas’s military leaders, the Israeli miliatry said. At least some of those strikes landed near a row of hotels in a built-up area of Gaza City, forcing some guests into a bomb shelter.
On Sunday evening, the general in charge of Israel’s Southern Command, Eliezer Toledano, told the public broadcaster Kan, “It is important we continue to exhaust the campaign that we have entered and deepen the damage being caused to Hamas.”
At least 11 Israeli residents had been killed by some of the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, the region controlled by Hamas.
Representatives of the United States, Qatar, Egypt and other countries have been trying to broker a cease-fire. In comments to France 24, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt urged “a return to calm” and an end to the “violence” and “killing.”
So far, their efforts have not succeeded. “If it doesn’t want to stop, we won’t stop,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, told Al Jazeera.
Some American officials are urging Israel to halt its operations soon or risk losing ground in the international court of public opinion. Late on Sunday, Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia, and 27 other senators called for an immediate cease-fire “to prevent further loss of life.”
Short of a lasting cease-fire, the Biden administration is trying to negotiate a humanitarian pause in the fighting to help Palestinians who have been forced from their homes in Gaza. Similar efforts in the past have been a key first step toward winding down hostilities.
Civilians are paying an especially high price in the latest bout of violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, raising urgent questions about how the laws of war apply to the conflagration: which military actions are legal, what war crimes are being committed and who, if anyone, will ever be held to account.
Both sides appear to be violating those laws, experts said: Hamas has fired nearly 3,000 rockets toward Israeli cities and towns, a clear war crime. And Israel, although it says it takes measures to avoid civilian casualties, has subjected Gaza to such an intense bombardment, killing families and flattening buildings, that it probably constitutes a disproportionate use of force — also a crime.
No legal adjudication is possible in the heat of battle. But Israeli airstrikes and artillery barrages on Gaza, an impoverished and densely packed enclave of two million people, killed at least 197 Palestinians, including 92 women and children, between last Monday and Sunday evening, according to Palestinian authorities, producing stark images of destruction that have reverberated around the world.
In the other direction, Hamas missiles have rained over Israeli towns and cities, sowing fear and killing at least ten people, including two children — a greater toll than during the last war, in 2014, which lasted more than seven weeks. The latest victim, a 55-year-old man, died on Saturday after missile shrapnel slammed through the door of his home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.
With neither side apparently capable of outright victory, the conflict seems locked in an endless loop of bloodshed. So the focus on civilian casualties has become more intense than ever as a proxy for the moral high ground in a seemingly unwinnable war.
In one of the deadliest episodes of the week, an Israeli missile slammed into an apartment on Friday, killing eight children and two women as they celebrated a major Muslim holiday. Israel said a senior Hamas commander was the target.
Graphic video footage showed Palestinian medics stepping over rubble that included children’s toys and a Monopoly board game as they evacuated the bloodied victims from the pulverized building. The only survivor was an infant boy.
“They weren’t holding weapons, they weren’t firing rockets and they weren’t harming anyone,” said the boy’s father, Mohammed al-Hadidi, who was later seen on television holding his son’s small hand in a hospital.
Although Hamas fires unguided missiles at Israeli cities at a blistering rate, sometimes over 100 at once, the vast majority are either intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system or miss their targets, resulting in a relatively low death toll.
Israel sometimes warns Gaza residents to evacuate before an airstrike, and it says it has called off strikes to avoid civilian casualties. But its use of artillery and airstrikes to pound such a confined area, packed with poorly protected people, has led to a death toll 20 times as high as that caused by Hamas, and wounded 1,235 more.
Under international treaties and unwritten rules, combatants are supposed to take all reasonable precautions to limit any civilian damage. But applying those principles in a place like Gaza is a highly contentious affair.
International pressure to bring an end to the raging conflict between Israel and Hamas militants has intensified, with the United States stepping up its diplomatic engagement and the United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the conflict in public for the first time. But the council took no action even as member after member decried the death and devastation.
Secretary-General António Guterres was the first of nearly two dozen speakers on the agenda of the meeting on Sunday, led by China, which holds the council’s rotating presidency for the month of May.
“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Mr. Guterres said. “Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately.”
Palestinian and Israeli diplomats, who were also invited to speak, used the meeting as a high-profile forum to vent longstanding grievances, in effect talking past each other with no sign of any softening in an intractable conflict nearly as old as the United Nations itself.
Riyad al-Maliki, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, implicitly rebuked the United States and other powers that have defended Israel’s right to protect itself from Hamas rocket attacks, asserting that such arguments makes Israel “further emboldened to continue to murder entire families in their sleep.”
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who spoke after Mr. Maliki, rejected any attempt to portray the actions of Israel and Hamas as moral equivalents. “Israel uses missiles to protect its children,” Mr. Erdan said. “Hamas uses children to protect its missiles.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said President Biden had spoken with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had also been engaging with his counterparts in the region.
She called on Hamas to stop its rockets barrage against Israel, expressed concerns about inter-communal violence, warned against incitement on both sides and said the United States was “prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a cease-fire.”
While envoys from all of the council’s 15 members urged an immediate de-escalation, there was no indication of what next steps the council was prepared to take. Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador, told reporters after the meeting had adjourned that he was continuing to work with other members “to take prompt action and speak in one voice.”
Mr. Netanyahu of Israel vowed late Saturday to continue striking Gaza “until we reach our targets,” suggesting a prolonged assault on the coastal territory even as casualties rose on both sides.
In separate calls on Saturday, Mr. Biden conferred with Mr. Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, about efforts to broker a cease-fire. While supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas militants, Mr. Biden urged Mr. Netanyahu to protect civilians and journalists.
Over the past week, the 15-member U.N. Security Council met privately at least twice to discuss ways of reducing tensions. But efforts to agree a statement or to hold an open meeting had faced resistance from the United States, Israel’s biggest defender on the council.
American officials said they wanted to give mediators sent to the region from the United States, Egypt and Qatar an opportunity to defuse the crisis.
But with violence worsening, a compromise was reached for a meeting on Sunday.
Security Council meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian issue have often ended inconclusively. But they have also demonstrated the widespread view among United Nations members that Israel’s actions as an occupying power are illegal and that its use of deadly force is disproportionately harsh.
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As the worst violence in years rages between the Israeli military and Hamas, each night the sky is lit up by a barrage of missiles and the projectiles designed to counter them.
It is a display of fire and thunder that has been described as both remarkable and horrifying.
The images of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system attempting to shoot down missiles fired by militants in Gaza have been among the most widely shared online, even as the toll wrought by the violence only becomes clear in the light of the next day’s dawn.
“The number of Israelis killed and wounded would be far higher if it had not been for the Iron Dome system, which has been a lifesaver as it always is,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said this week.
The Iron Dome became operational in 2011 and got its biggest first test over eight days in November 2014, when Gaza militants fired some 1,500 rockets aimed at Israel.
While Israeli officials claimed a success rate of up to 90 percent during that conflict, outside experts were skeptical.
The system’s interceptors — just 6 inches wide and 10 feet long — rely on miniature sensors and computerized brains to zero in on short-range rockets. Israel’s larger interceptors — the Patriot and Arrow systems — can fly longer distances to go after bigger threats.
The Iron Dome was recently upgraded, but the details of the changes were not made public.
It is being tested like never before, according to the Israeli military.
“I think it will not be a big mistake to say that even last night there were more missiles than all the missiles fired on Tel Aviv in 2014,” Major General Ori Gordin, commander of Israel’s home front, said during a news conference on Sunday. “Hamas’s attack is very intense in terms of pace of firing.”
Militants in the Gaza Strip have about 3,100 missiles, the Israeli Air Force said on Sunday, noting that about 1,150 of them had been intercepted.
“Despite the layers of defense, there is never 100 percent defense,” Gen. Gordin said. “Sometimes the aerial defense will miss or not be able to intercept, and sometimes people will not get into shelters or lay on the ground and sometimes a whole building will collapse.”
As the Israel Defense Forces strike Gaza with jets, drones and artillery, a key target has been a network of tunnels beneath the Palestinian-controlled territory that the militant Islamic group Hamas is known to use for deploying militants and smuggling weapons.
A spokesman for the Israeli military described the complex network as a “city beneath a city.”
The tunnels were also the main rationale that Israel gave for its ground invasion of Gaza in 2014. Israel’s leaders said afterward that they had destroyed 32 tunnels during that operation, including 14 that penetrated into Israeli territory.
At the time of that fighting, the Israel Defense Forces took reporters into a 6-foot-by-2-foot underground passage running almost two miles under the border to show the threat posed by the tunnels, and the difficulty that Israel has in finding and destroying them.
Here is an excerpt from what The New York Times reported then:
Tunnels from Gaza to Israel have had a powerful hold on the Israeli psyche since 2006, when Hamas militants used one to capture an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before being released in a prisoner exchange.
The tunnels can be quite elaborate. The tunnel toured by journalists was reinforced with concrete and had a rack on the wall for electrical wiring. It also featured a metal track along the floor, used by carts that removed dirt during the tunnel’s construction, that could be used to ferry equipment and weapons, the Israeli military said.
Israeli officials acknowledge that it is a difficult technological and operational challenge to destroy all of the subterranean passageways and neutralize the threat they pose. The tunnels are well hidden, said the officer who conducted the tour, and some tunnels are booby-trapped.
There is no simple answer to the question “What set off the current violence in Israel?”
But in a recent episode of The Daily, Isabel Kershner, The New York Times’s Jerusalem correspondent, explained the series of recent events that reignited violence in the region.
In Jerusalem, nearly every square foot of land is contested — its ownership and tenancy symbolic of larger abiding questions about who has rightful claim to a city considered holy by three major world religions.
As Isabel explained, a longstanding legal battle over attempts to forcibly evict six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem heightened tensions in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of violence.
The always tenuous peace was further tested by the overlap of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with a month of politically charged days in Israel.
A series of provocative events followed: Israeli forces barred people from gathering to celebrate Ramadan outside Damascus Gate, an Old City entrance that is usually a festive meeting place for young people after the breaking of the daily fast during the holy month.
Then young Palestinians filmed themselves slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jew, videos that went viral on TikTok.
And on Jerusalem Day, an annual event marking the capture of East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, groups of young Israelis marched through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to reach the Western Wall, chanting “Death to Arabs” along the way.
Stability in the city collapsed after a police raid on the Aqsa Mosque complex, an overture that Palestinians saw as an invasion on holy territory. Muslim worshipers threw rocks, and officers met them with tear gas, rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades. At least 21 police officers and more than 330 Palestinians were wounded in that fighting.
Listen to the episode to hear how these clashes spiraled into an exchange of airstrikes that has brought Israeli forces to the edge of Gaza — and the brink of war.