The Denver Post

Israel, Hamas trade fire as confrontat­ion escalates

- By Fares Akram and Josef Federman

Israel stepped up GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP» its attacks on the Gaza Strip, flattening a high-rise building used by the Hamas militant group and killing at least three militants in their hideouts on Tuesday as Palestinia­n rockets rained down almost nonstop on parts of Israel.

It was the heaviest fighting between the bitter enemies since 2014, and it showed no signs of slowing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to expand the offensive, while Gaza militants unleashed a fierce late-night barrage of rockets that set off air-raid sirens and explosions throughout the densely populated Tel Aviv metropolit­an area.

Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installati­ons, witnesses said. A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City.

Five Israelis — including three women and a child — were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded. The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinia­ns, including 10 children, according to the Health Ministry. More than 200 people were wounded.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, a 26-yearold Palestinia­n was killed during clashes with Israeli troops who entered al-Fawar refugee camp in southern Hebron, the ministry said.

In another sign of widening unrest, demonstrat­ions erupted in Arab communitie­s across Israel, where protesters set dozens of vehicles on fire in confrontat­ions with police.

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was the most intense since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014. In just more than 24 hours, the current round of violence, sparked by religious tensions in the contested city of Jerusalem, increasing­ly resembled that devastatin­g war.

The booms of Israeli airstrikes and hisses of outgoing rocket fire could be heard in Gaza throughout the day, and large plumes of smoke from targeted buildings rose into

the air. Israel resumed a policy of airstrikes aimed at killing wanted militants and began to take down entire buildings — a tactic that drew heavy internatio­nal criticism in 2014.

In Israel, the nonstop barrages of rocket fire left long streaks of white smoke in their wake, while the explosions of anti-rocket intercepto­rs boomed overhead.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu said that Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant groups “have paid, and I tell you here, will pay a heavy price for their aggression.”

He claimed Israel had killed dozens of militants and inflicted heavy damage on hundreds of targets.

“This campaign will take time,” he said. “With determinat­ion, unity and strength, we will restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

He stood alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political rival, in a show of unity. “There are lots of targets lined up. This is only the beginning,” Gantz said. The military said it was sending troop reinforcem­ents to the Gaza border.

The current violence has coincided with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sentiments.

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