Mourners carry the body of Palestinian man Ahmed Al-Shenbari, who was killed amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip May 11 2021. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian man Ahmed Al-Shenbari, who was killed amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip May 11 2021. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM

Gaza/Jerusalem — A 13-storey residential block in the Gaza Strip collapsed on Tuesday night after being hit by an Israeli air strike, witnesses said.

Video footage showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the tower, its upper storeys still intact as they fell. The tower houses an office used by the political leadership of Gaza's Islamist rulers, Hamas.

Electricity in the area around the building went out, and residents were using flashlights.

Shortly after the attack, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group said they would respond by firing rockets at Tel Aviv.

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Air raid sirens and explosions were heard around the city and Channel 12 television said there had been a direct rocket hit on a building in the suburb of Holon.

Israel halted all flights from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

“We are now carrying out our promise,” Hamas's armed wing said in a statement. “The Qassam Brigades are launching their biggest rocket strike against Tel Aviv and its suburbs, with 130 rockets, in response to the enemy’s targeting of residential towers.”

Hours earlier, Israel had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza and massed tanks on the border as rocket barrages hit Israeli towns for a second day, deepening a conflict in which at least 28 people in the Palestinian enclave and two in Israel have been killed.

Residents of the block and people living nearby had been warned to evacuate the area around an hour before the air strike, according to witnesses. It was not immediately clear if the building had been fully evacuated, or if there were casualties.

The most serious outbreak of fighting since 2019 between Israel and armed factions in Gaza was triggered by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday.

Jerusalem has been tense during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with the threat of a court ruling evicting Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers adding to the friction.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Gaza militants on Monday crossed a “red line” with rocket fire at the Jerusalem area, and predicted that the current round of violence could last for “some time”.

Netanyahu said Israel would step up its strikes on Gaza, an enclave of 2-million people, in response to the rocket attacks, which carried on into the early evening. “Both the strength of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks will be increased,” he said.

Within an hour, Israel said it had deployed 80 fighter jets to bomb rocket launch sites in and around Gaza City.

Officials said infantry and armour were being dispatched to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks, in 2014.

More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed.

On Tuesday, before the block collapsed, the Gaza health ministry said at least 28 Palestinians, including 10 children, had been killed and 152 wounded by Israeli strikes since Hamas on Monday fired rockets towards Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.

Israel's national ambulance service said two women had been killed in rocket strikes on the southern city of Ashkelon.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all sides to step back, and reminded them of the requirement in international law to try to avoid civilian casualties.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel but also said he was concerned at the threat of forced eviction of Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

The violence is flaring at a time when Netanyahu’s rivals are trying to piece together a government after the fourth election in two years, and it has already impeded those efforts. One of the parties to the coalition talks, the United Arab List, has suspended participation due to the deteriorating security situation.

The escalation has also sparked concern in the US, Europe and at the UN. “All sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said. With Reuters

Update: May 11 2021
This article has been updated with new information.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this, please visit bloomberg.com

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