Israel steps up Gaza offensive, kills senior Hamas figures

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An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Yonatan Sindel)

GAZA – Israel on Wednesday pressed ahead with a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, killing as many as 10 senior Hamas military figures and toppling a pair of high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities in airstrikes. The Islamic militant group showed no signs of backing down and fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities.

In just three days, this latest round of fighting between the bitter enemies has already begun to resemble — and even exceed — a devastating 50-day war in 2014. Like in that previous war, neither side appears to have an exit strategy.

But there are key differences. The fighting has triggered the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades. And looming in the background is an international war crimes investigation.

Israel carried out an intense barrage of airstrikes just after sunrise, striking dozens of targets in several minutes that set off bone-rattling explosions across Gaza. Airstrikes continued throughout the day, filling the sky with pillars of smoke.

At nightfall, the streets of Gaza City resembled a ghost town as people huddled indoors on the final night of Islam's holiest month of Ramadan. The evening, followed by the Eid al-Fitr holiday, is usually a time of vibrant night life, shopping and crowded restaurants.

“There is nowhere to run. There is nowhere to hide,” said Zeyad Khattab, a 44-year-old pharmacist who fled with a dozen other relatives to a family home in central Gaza after bombs pounded his apartment building in Gaza City. “That terror is impossible to describe.”

Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the north, for a second straight day.

The military said sirens also wailed in northern Israel's Emek area, or Jezreel Valley, the farthest the effects of Gaza rockets have reached since 2014. The Israeli army also shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva early Thursday, apparently sparking a large fire. It said the strike left people wounded and caused “significant damage.”