GAZA CITY – Israel pounded Gaza on Saturday with scores of air strikes, killing 10 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and bringing down an 12-storey apartment building as Egypt called for new truce talks.
Since a previous round of frantic Egyptian diplomacy collapsed last Tuesday, shattering nine days of calm, 86 Palestinians and a four-year-old Israeli boy have been killed in the violence.
Israel on Saturday sent text messages, voice mails and leaflets warning Palestinians that “every house from which militant activity is carried out, will be targeted” and to stay away from “terrorists”.
Israel has vowed no let-up until it can guarantee the safety of its civilians, while Hamas insists that Israel must end its eight-year blockade of the territory as part of any truce.
At least 2,103 Palestinians and 68 people on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have been killed since July 8. The UN says 70 percent of the Palestinians who have died were civilians.
Israel said it had carried out 55 air strikes over Gaza on Saturday and that around 64 rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza hit Israel, with another 14 intercepted, including one over Tel Aviv.
The deadliest Israeli air strike levelled a home in Al-Zawayda in central Gaza, killing a couple, their sons aged three and four, and a 45-year-old aunt, medics said.
Distraught mourners gathered at the cemetery, clawing at the dry soil and using their bare hands to fill the graves after laying marble slabs over the bodies in the burning morning sun.
Neighbours said the family house had been bombed earlier in the conflict and that the family had returned to camp out in the ruins, when it was hit overnight by an F16.
– Apartment block levelled –
Air strikes killed a 64-year-old man south of Gaza City, and in the town of Deir al-Balah a 12-year-old boy and his 38-year-old mother, as well as another 43-year-old woman.
An Israeli air strike levelled an apartment building in the heart of Gaza City late Saturday, wounding at least 18 people, 10 of them children, emergency services said.
Residents in the 11-storey building were called 10 minutes before the attack and told to evacuate, after which at least two missiles slammed into the complex, levelling it totally, witnesses said.
An Israeli army spokeswoman told AFP a Hamas military operations room had been located in the building.
Another air strike later destroyed a car in Gaza City, killing one person and wounding 11 others, medics said.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials said two mosques were destroyed in the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza, while a third, in the Shati refugee camp which had already been damaged, was bombed again.
The intensified air strikes came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed harsh retribution for the killing of a four-year-old boy at his home in kibbutz Nahal Oz on Friday.
One Israeli child and at least 480 Palestinian children have been killed since the conflict began, UNICEF said, in the deadliest fighting since the 2005 end of the second intifada.
– Abbas meets Sisi –
Israel was yet to respond to Egypt’s call for new talks, while Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that “any proposal offered to the movement will be discussed”.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said that “what interests us now is putting a stop to the bloodshed”.
“As soon as a ceasefire goes into effect, the two sides can sit down and discuss their demands,” he said after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Abbas’s meeting with Sisi came after he held two rounds of talks in Qatar on Thursday and Friday with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whose Islamist movement is the de facto ruler of Gaza.
A Hamas official said Saturday the movement has signed a proposal for the Palestinians to apply to join the International Criminal Court at which legal action could be taken against Israel.
Since the July 8 outbreak of the latest conflict in and around Gaza, Israel and Hamas have accused each other of war crimes. Joining the ICC would also expose Palestinian factions to possible prosecution.
On Friday, Hamas executed 18 people in Gaza City it accused of collaborating with Israel, a day after three of its top commanders were assassinated in Israeli air strikes.
Netanyahu seized the opportunity to compare Hamas to the extremist Islamic State movement in a Saturday telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“Yesterday the world saw how Hamas, like (IS), conducts mass executions,” Netanyahu told Ban in remarks relayed by his office.