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“This is just the beginning,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday as Israel’s bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip intensified on its third day.
Israel’s war cabinet approved plans to broaden the bombing campaign, which has killed dozens of Palestinians so far, including children.
Israeli ministers were reportedly unanimous in their refusal to accept any ceasefire yet.
“We will hit them with strikes they have never dreamed of,” Netanyahu said as he announced the assassination of senior Hamas commanders earlier on Wednesday.
At that time, he was Israel’s chief of staff commanding the 51-day assault that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.
“Gaza will burn,” Gantz said in the video, a direct threat to civilians that likely constitutes evidence of premeditated intent to commit war crimes.
“Gaza residents, the last time that we met on Eid al-Fitr, I was chief of staff during Operation Protective Edge,” he says in the video over footage of destruction.
“Ever since, Gaza is still trying to rehabilitate itself,” he adds.
“If Hamas does not stop its violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014.”
Gantz accused Hamas of operating out of civilian neighborhoods in order to justify what he said would be “more extensive and intense” damage in Gaza.
Netanyahu’s Arabic spokesperson Ofir Gendelman used a fake video on Tuesday to accuse Hamas of using “human shields” by “firing rockets at Israel from populated areas.”
Bezalel Smotrich, a member of Israel’s parliament, called on the military to “flatten the Strip,” in a tweet on Tuesday.
Death and destruction
Gaza’s health ministry reported 53 Palestinians killed in Gaza since Monday, including 14 children, and more than 300 injuries.
However, the number of dead and injured has been mounting by the hour.
Six people have been killed in Israel, including a 5-year-old child fatally injured when shrapnel from a rocket hit their family’s bomb shelter in Sderot, as well as an occupation soldier killed by an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas.
Those killed in Israel include two Palestinian citizens, Khalil Awaad and his daughter Nadine. They reportedly had no access to a bomb shelter in the village of Dhamas where they lived.
Israeli warplanes have dropped dozens of missiles and opened artillery fire onto the Gaza Strip, targeting civilians and their property, large residential towers, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque.
An Israeli missile also struck a COVID-19 quarantine facility. A mother and baby clinic was also damaged and went out of commission.
Israel “returned to the strategy of destroying homes over the heads of their inhabitants,” Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza, stated on Wednesday.
Al Mezan asserted that “what the occupation forces are committing amounts to war crimes.”
Several high-rise towers destroyed by Israel housed dozens of homes, businesses and media offices.
Pregnant mother, children killed
In the early hours of Wednesday, Israeli warplanes fired two missiles at a five-story apartment building in Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City, killing at least five Palestinians.
Reem Saad Kamel Saad, 31, a pregnant mother was killed alongside her 5-year-old son Zaid Muhammad al-Talbani.
Her toddler Mariam Muhammad al-Talbani’s remains were never found, Al Mezan said.
Also killed in the same strike were Wael Abd al-Karim Issi, 41, Hasan Muhammad al-Qahwaji, 43, and Hala Hussein al-Rifi, 13.
The strike caused massive damage to nearby homes.
Israeli warplanes fired a missile at farmland in the southwestern area of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, killing Munther Abd al-Karim Baraka, 21, and his 18-year-old sister Manar Abd al-Karim Baraka on Tuesday.
The pair were attending to a poultry farm owned by their family.
Israel fired approximately 20 missiles at a park belonging to the Khan Younis municipality as well as a security location on Wednesday, killing 28-year-old Mahmoud Jamil Kaluseh, who Al Mezan said happened to be there coincidentally.
Israeli warplanes fired a missile at a civilian vehicle on Wednesday morning, killing most people in it.
Talaat Jamil Agha, 36, Atef Abd al-Rahman al-Barawi, 48, Nael Khalid al-Barawi, 22 and Wael Faris al-Ghul, 55, were killed. One other passenger was injured.
Israeli soldiers stationed at the boundary fence in southern Gaza opened fire on a group of farmers east of Khan Younis on Wednesday, killing 17-year-old Bashar Ahmad Samour.
Samour was harvesting parsley with two relatives 500 meters from the boundary fence when Israeli forces shot him in the chest with live ammunition, killing him.
Israeli warplanes struck a car in Gaza City with two missiles on Wednesday, killing Mustafa Mazen Kardeh, 31, Said Hashim al-Hatu, 67, along with his wife Maysun Zaki al-Hatu, 55.
Al-Hatus’ adult son and daughter were injured in the blast.
Two merchants from nearby stores were also killed, Nader Muhammad al-Ghazali, 46, and Abd al-Salam Mahmoud al-Ghazali, 28.
Israeli missile strikes killed 15-year-old Lina Iyad Shrir on Tuesday evening along with both her parents, Iyad Fathi Shrir, 44, and his wife Layali Taha Shrir, 40.
The bombing of their house caused major damage to nearby homes, Al Mezan said.
Damage to UNRWA schools
Despite ample warning to Israel by the Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas – not to bomb residential buildings in Gaza, Israel targeted 17 homes and residential towers, amounting to more than 100 housing units.
Israel deliberately destroyed the 13-story al-Hanadi apartment building near the Gaza port, completely destroying it.
It housed 80 families, as well as offices.
The Qassam brigades retaliated by firing barrages of rockets towards Tel Aviv and surrounding suburbs.
Israeli warplanes also fired six so-called warning missiles at al-Jawhara building in central Gaza City on Tuesday, before firing five missiles early Wednesday destroying it almost completely.
The 10-story building housed businesses, medical clinics and media organizations.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli warplanes fired two missiles at a group of Palestinians in al-Shujaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza City, killing 34-year-old Muhammad Abd al-Rauf Halas.
An Israeli missile attack on a security location near the Islamic University of Gaza caused severe damage to nearby schools run by the UN agency UNRWA.
Israeli missiles also struck another location in Tal al-Hawa neighborhood near the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters. The blast also caused damage to nearby UNRWA schools and a high school.
Rocket falling short
A rocket fired by Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza fell short and killed eight Palestinians on Monday, according to Defense for Children International – Palestine.
The rocket landed in Jabaliya in northern Gaza, according to evidence collected by DCIP.
Two children were killed in the blast. Mustafa Muhammad Obaid, 16, and 5-year-old Baraa Wisam al-Gharabli, who succumbed to his injuries later that day.
Palestinian security forces and explosive experts indicated to DCIP that the cause of the blast was a rocket originating from the enclave falling short.
As night fell on Wednesday, Israeli bombing of Gaza continued. Palestinian resistance factions retaliated with volleys of rockets, some reaching as far as the Tel Aviv area.
Violence across Israel
Meanwhile, across cities in Israel, violence broke out between Jewish and Arab residents, with hundreds of settlers reportedly coming in from the occupied West Bank to participate in mob attacks on Palestinian citizens.
Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.