Israel’s military faced war crime accusations Tuesday after carrying out an airstrike that completely destroyed a high-rise apartment building in densely populated Gaza City, prompting a massive barrage of retaliatory rocket fire as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to further escalate violence that has already left over 30 people—almost all of them Palestinians—dead.
Israeli media and a United Nations official report residents of the 13-story apartment building in the Al-Rimal neighborhood of western Gaza City were repeatedly warned—including by telephone and a “roof-knocking” airstrike—of the impending attack, which occurred around 8:30 pm local time.
Video of the Israeli strike shows multiple explosions followed by the tower’s collapse. International observers promptly noted that the deliberate destruction of homes when not “imperatively demanded by the necessities of war” is a war crime.
Dozens of Palestinian families were left without homes following the attack. It was not immediately clear if the building was completely evacuated, or if there were any casualties from the strike.
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Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials said the building—which contained 80 apartments—housed an office used by senior political officials of Hamas, the democratically elected leaders of Gaza.
“We expect that this powerful attack on the high-rise building, which shook all of Gaza, will lead to extensive shooting toward Israel,” an IDF spokesperson correctly predicted.
Within 15 minutes of the tower’s destruction, the armed resistance wing of Islamic Jihad announced it would retaliate with rockets aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas said it fired more than 130 rockets into Israel in response to the Gaza tower attack. Indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian areas are also considered war crimes under international law.
Social media news feeds soon filled with videos of the U.S.-Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting a hail of incoming rockets. However, not all of the inbound projectiles were destroyed, with IDF officials blaming some of the rocket strikes in Ashkelon on a temporarily malfunctioning Iron Dome battery.
Homes, a bus, an empty school, and other structures were hit in numerous locations in Israel, resulting in at least one death and numerous injuries. A 50-year-old Israeli woman was reportedly killed when a rocket struck her home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Leziyon at around 9:30 pm local time, bringing the total number of Israelis killed during what Palestinian militants are calling the “Jerusalem Sword” campaign to two.
The other Israeli victim, an 80-year-old woman, was killed along with her Indian caretaker when a rocket struck an apartment building in Ashkelon earlier on Tuesday.
Israeli forces have reportedly killed at least 30 Palestinians, including 10 children, in what the IDF has dubbed “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” Amid the escalating bloodshed, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would “increase both the intensity of the attacks and the rate of attacks.”
The IDF called up 5,000 reservists for active duty Tuesday as fears mounted globally of a full-blown Israeli assault on Gaza. The last such war—which Israel called “Operation Protective Edge”—left more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children, dead during seven weeks of mostly one-sided fighting in the summer of 2014. Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians in the war.
As Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayye urged the United Nations Security Council to intervene to stop “the Israeli aggression against our people” and leading international figures including a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights pleaded for an end to the violence, Israeli forces once again stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, Israeli border police were deployed in the city of Lod on Tuesday following violence between Jews and Arabs that left at least one Palestinian man dead on Monday. In Ramla, right-wing Israelis set up checkpoints and attacked Palestinians as they drove past.
The current eruption of violence began last week amid the brutal Israeli repression of protests against the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israeli forces and settler colonists in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, and the wounding of hundreds of Palestinians during an Israeli assault on Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest site in Islam.