Conflict’s second week begins with heavy Israeli strikes in Gaza

By Marc Santora and Dan Bilefsky

Israeli warplanes unleashed a fierce air bombardment on Gaza City before dawn Monday as Hamas militants in the coastal enclave continued to target towns in southern Israel with barrages of rockets, 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 U.N. Security Council over the weekend showed little sign of progress. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, speaking Sunday, said the operation would “take time.”

“We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet,” 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. 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 the Gaza Strip 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’ military leaders, the Israeli military 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-Sissi 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 U.S. officials are urging Israel to halt its operations soon or risk losing ground in the international court of public opinion. Late Sunday, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., 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.

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