No let-up on airstrikes in Gaza, rockets over Israel

Israel continued its bombardment of the Gaza Strip early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian woman and wounding dozens of other people even as international calls mounted for a halt to the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded swaths of Gaza overnight, including Deir al Balah, a town in central Gaza; Khan Younis in the south; and areas in the northern part of the strip. By morning, a lull in rocket fire lobbed from Gaza into Israeli territory ended with sirens signaling renewed volleys over southern Israel.

Since May 10, Israel’s aerial assault on Gaza have killed at least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to figures by the health ministry in Gaza, which is administered by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the strip. A further 1,710 people have been injured. In Israel, 12 people have been killed, including a soldier, a teenager and a 5-year old child.

The Israeli military said it destroyed a number of Hamas targets, including weapons caches, a tunnel and Hamas launch sites. Residents in northern Gaza reported a powerful bombardment near the main highway linking the area to the city.

Late Thursday morning, the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said it hit an Israeli military bus near the Gaza border with an anti-tank missile. Israel’s military confirmed the hit but said that the bus was empty and that a soldier was only lightly wounded by shrapnel. Since the start of the war, Hamas has launched more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli territory, Israel’s military said, adding that the Iron Dome missile-defense system had blocked 90% of rockets over population centers.

Despite stronger pressure from the U.S. for a cease-fire — on Wednesday, President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expected “a significant de-escalation” by day’s end — hostilities have continued, with Netanyahu insisting that he was “determined to continue in this operation until its objective is achieved — to bring back the quiet and security to … citizens of Israel.

“We’re not standing with a stopwatch in our hand; rather, we are making sure to meet the goals of this operation,” Netanyahu said in a briefing to ambassadors Wednesday, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Still, there were reports Thursday that a truce could come by Friday.

“The U.S. government wants a cease-fire already,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., told Israel Radio on Thursday. “There is no disagreement between us on that. We also want this fighting to end quickly … but we need to know that the Hamas infrastructure has been sufficiently damaged.”

The European Union has called for a halt to the violence. On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas landed in Israel to meet with Netanyahu and other ministers to help push for a cease-fire.

With Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and army officials, Maas toured an apartment building hit by a missile in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petach Tikva. Maas walked through the living room of a badly damaged apartment; in the parking lot were several burned-out cars.

In a briefing, Maas reiterated Germany’s support for Israel, saying it “must be able to protect its citizens” against any groups that threaten it “with annihilation.”

But he also added that his country supported “the international efforts for a cease-fire” and was “convinced that it is in the interest of the people on both sides that the violence ends as quickly as possible.”

Islamic Jihad, another militant group operating in Gaza, denounced Maas’ comments as “racist” and rooted in a colonial outlook.

The Czech and Slovakian foreign ministers are also expected in Israel on Thursday, local media reported.

The fourth war between Hamas and Israel began earlier this month after Israeli police stormed Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinian protesters gathered inside during the last days of the holy month of Ramadan. It added to tensions already heightened by Jewish settlers and right-wing Jewish nationalist groups threatening the eviction of six Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah.

Since then, Israeli’s bombing of Gaza has been relentless, with residents bearing the brunt of the operation despite the Israeli military saying it takes precautions to avoid civilian casualties. On Wednesday, a missile slammed into the third-floor apartment where Eyad Salha, 35, his pregnant wife, Amani, and their 3-year-old daughter were about to have lunch.

“We were on the way to my sister’s place when we heard the sound of a raid. We then got a phone call telling us our apartment was targeted,” said Omar Salha, Eyad’s 31-year-old brother. “We came and found them in pieces.”

The onslaught has also devastated wide swaths of Gaza, including houses, high-rises used for both commercial and residential purposes, farmland, roads and other infrastructure.

On Thursday, the Gaza municipality said an attack on the Saftawi area cut one-fifth of the city’s water supply. The Ministry of Education issued a statement saying 46 schools had been damaged in the barrage.

“There is no military necessity for this amount of destruction,” Jamil Sarhan, head of the independent commission for human rights in Gaza, told reporters Thursday outside Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Special correspondents Salah and Kraft reported from Gaza City and Tel Aviv, respectively. Times staff writer Bulos reported from Beirut.