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Washington Post – TEL AVIV — Conflict raged through Israel and the Palestinian territories on Saturday as rockets bombarded Israeli cities, communal strife and clashes gripped swaths of Israel and the West Bank, and airstrikes rocked Gaza with a building used by international media among the places hit.
Warning sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and cities and communities in southern Israel as hundreds of rockets were fired into the country. One person died after two rockets fell in Ramat Gan, just east of Tel Aviv, according to emergency rescue services, taking the total death toll in Israel to 10.
In Gaza City, the Israeli military struck a high-rise building that houses the offices for several media organizations, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The Associated Press said that its staff had been asked to evacuate its offices ahead of the strike. The Israeli military said the building that was hit also contained “military assets” belonging to Hamas intelligence.
After the office building was targeted, Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said Tel Aviv and central Israel should “wait for our shocking response.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the Biden administration “communicated directly to the Israelis” after the strike on the media tower in Gaza City.
“Ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” she wrote.
The building also housed the Gaza Center for Media Freedom, which trains local journalists and monitors press freedom. The organization’s director, Adel Zanoun, said the offices were closed for Eid holidays marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The group’s staff members also had been in the process of moving out of the building, but they hadn’t dared to enter it to retrieve their remaining equipment — 12 laptops and six desktop computers — after the evacuation order came.
“What could we do?” he said. “It’s a big risk, it’s very, very dangerous.”
Zanoun, who also works for the Agence France-Presse news agency, said that the aerial bombardment eclipses anything seen in the major attacks on Gaza in 2014. “There are airstrikes everywhere,” he said. “And very, very strong.”
The continued violence came as Palestinians readied for mass demonstrations to commemorate the loss of homes when Israel was founded more than 70 years ago, raising the specter of further unrest.
The Israeli military said it had carried out more airstrikes on the enclave into the early hours of Saturday morning in response to more than 2,300 rockets fired toward Israel over the past week.
Health authorities in Gaza said eight people, including women and children, were killed in a strike at Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. At least 139 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry. An Israeli military spokesman said the incident was being investigated and officials would issue a statement shortly.
Violence between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel continued overnight on Friday. In Jaffa, the father of a 12-year-old boy burned in a molotov cocktail attack told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that he and his family were in their living room when the firebomb came through the window. Israeli police said that an investigation had been opened.
On Saturday, demonstrations were planned in cities and villages across Israel and the West Bank, and at the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Funerals were also planned for 11 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in clashes in the West Bank on Friday as the area emerged as a new flash point.
Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said was the building’s owner trying to negotiate with an Israeli officer to get an extra 10 minutes of time before the strike to retrieve camera equipment. Those in the building had been given more than an hour’s warning, but he said journalists had been outside their offices doing broadcasts.
“There’s no difference between 3 o’clock and 3:10,” he argued, but the voice on the other side was unrelenting: “No one enters the building,” it said.
“All the efforts we put into our lives is one with the wind,” said the owner. “Our memories, our lives, you forced us to lose.”
The exchange is one of several recorded examples of Arabic-speaking Israeli military operatives phoning landlords, managers and tenets of targeted buildings. The Israel military has made calls, issued social media warnings and delivered nonlethal “roof-knocking” strikes to give residents and workers a chance to flee.
This year’s Nakba Day, an annual event to mark the displacement of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, takes place against a tinderbox backdrop of a cycle of street violence and military confrontation in the Gaza Strip.
The spiral of violence, which erupted after a series of anti-Arab demonstrations in Jerusalem, and the storming of the city’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound by Israeli security forces over a week ago, has echoes of the days of the country’s two intifadas — mass Palestinian uprisings against Israel.
At midday, sirens sounded in central Ramallah on the West Bank to mark Nakba Day. Sirens also wailed across kibbutz communities near the Gaza Strip as Hamas fired more rocket salvos, sending Israelis into their shelters.
“I think for Palestinians it’s less about commemorating Nakba right now and more about commemorating the ongoing Nakba,” said Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and activist in Ramallah. “That’s the difference this time.”
In Sakhnin, a town in Israel with many Arab citizens, dozens of Palestinian flags flapped over a crowd of about 5,000 gathering for Nakba events. The crowd, many wrapped in black-and-white kaffiyas, marched from a mosque to the municipal building chanting slogans as families lined the route.
“We are living Nakba,” said Kristen Ghnaiem, 25. “It’s continuous. We are living another one.”
She joined a peaceful protest Friday in Haifa, which she said police violently disrupted, adding to her feeling of anger and distrust.
As an Arab citizen of Israel, she said she has always identified with Palestinian causes, but until this week never felt so comfortable expressing it.
“The feeling was always there,” she said. “But I didn’t think this would happen.”
Mindful of the growing international condemnation of the mounting death toll in Gaza, a senior Israeli air force general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the process of issuing advance warnings was evidence that Israel is doing what it can to minimize civilian casualties as it strikes the military assets Hamas has embedded in crowded neighborhoods.
Palestinians, however, claim Israeli attacks hit civilians and nonmilitary targets.
“We could strike these buildings with commanders inside,” the officer said. “We lose a lot of information because sometimes we give them three hours to get out.”
By Saturday afternoon, the Israeli military said it had struck about 670 targets in operations that began Monday evening. The officer said the six-day campaign is the most intense air assault Israel has ever mounted.
The tempo, which has been matched by Hamas’s rate of rocket fire, is meant to devastate the militant group’s ability to manufacture and transport rockets in the enclave and shatter its command and control capacity as quickly as possible.
Warplanes dropped some 500,000 explosive tons of munitions during one 40-minute barrage Thursday morning that was meant to cripple a Hamas tunnel network. The tunnels were designed in part to conceal militants in advance of an invasion on Gaza by Israel ground troops. Demolishing that infrastructure deprives Hamas of an important defense.
“It’s a huge blow to morale as to how they protect themselves,” the officer said. Israel was still evaluating the extent of the damage and the number of suspected militants caught in the blasts.