Israeli airstrike levels 7-story building in Gaza

By Peter Enav

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 24 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Palestinians gather while firefighters try to extinguish fire in the wreckage of a vehicle following an Israeli airstrike near Palestine stadium in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Mohammed al-Ghoul, 26, was killed and several were wounded in the airstrike, according to the Gaza police and Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Adel Hana, Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven-floor office building and severely damaged a two-story shopping center in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, signaling a new escalation in seven weeks of fighting with Hamas.

The strikes in the southern town of Rafah came just hours after Israel bombed a residential tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-story building with 44 apartments.

A total of eight people were killed in Sunday's airstrikes. Israel said one of the dead was a Hamas official involved in handling the group's finances.

The targeting of large buildings appears to be part of a new tactic by Israel. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents in automated phone calls that it would target buildings harboring "terrorist infrastructure" and that they should stay away.

A senior military official confirmed that Israel has a policy of striking at buildings containing Hamas operational centers or those from which military activities are launched. The official said each strike required prior approval from military lawyers and is carried out only after the local population is warned.

However, he said, there was now a widening of locations that the military can target. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter with reporters.

Speaking ahead of Israel's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents to keep their distance from Hamas militants.

"I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror," he said. "Every one of these structures is a target for us."

In the 12-story apartment tower, the target was a fourth-floor apartment where Hamas ran an operations center, according to Israeli media. In the past, Israel has carried out pinpoint strikes, targeting apartments in high-rises with missiles, while leaving the buildings standing.

The military declined immediate comment when asked why it collapsed the entire building instead of striking a specific apartment.

Meanwhile, Gaza militants continued to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, including at least 10 on Sunday, one of which wounded three people on the Israeli side of the main Gaza crossing, the military said.

Israel's Defense Ministry said the three wounded were civilian drivers waiting to transport wounded Gazans who had been brought into Israel for treatment in hospitals. The Erez crossing is used by journalists, aid workers and Palestinians with Israeli permits to enter or leave Gaza.

In southern Israel, hundreds of people attended the funeral of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, who was killed Friday in a mortar attack. The mourners included Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin.

Elsewhere, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in open areas in northern Israel. It was not immediately clear whether they were fired by pro-government forces or rebel groups.

Amid persistent violence, Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a durable cease-fire, but stopped short of issuing invitations.

Several rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have collapsed, along with temporary cease-fires that accompanied them. The gaps between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and there's no sign either is willing to budge.

The Israeli military said it had carried out some 20 strikes on Gaza since midnight Saturday. Gaza police and medical officials reported eight fatalities.

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