Explosions following Israeli air strikes in Gaza city amid days of fighting 130521 CREDIT YASSER QUDIH/XINHUA/ALAMY LIVE NEWS
Middle East

Israel Steps Up Offensive Against Gaza

Gaza's Health Ministry said the death toll has risen to 69 Palestinians, while in Israel, a total of seven people have been killed.

Explosions following Israeli air strikes in Gaza city amid days of fighting 130521 CREDIT YASSER QUDIH/XINHUA/ALAMY LIVE NEWS

Israel has pressed ahead with a military offensive in the Gaza Strip, killing as many as 10 senior Hamas military figures.

Israel's defence force also toppled a pair of high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities in air strikes, however, the militant group has shown 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.

Israel carried out a barrage of air strikes just after sunrise on Wednesday, striking dozens of targets in several minutes that set off explosions across Gaza.

Air strikes continued throughout the day, filling the sky with pillars of smoke.

At nightfall, the streets of Gaza resembled a ghost town as people huddled indoors on the final night of Ramadan – Islam's holiest month.

Zeyad Khattab, who fled with a dozen other relatives to a family home in central Gaza after bombs pounded his apartment building, said: "There is nowhere to run. There is nowhere to hide.

"That terror is impossible to describe."

Gaza militants also continued to hit Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into the early hours of Thursday.

The attacks brought a standstill in communities near Gaza but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area for a second consecutive day.

Destroyed building on the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia after it was hit by an Israeli air strike 130521 CREDIT MOHAMMED TALATENE/DPA/ALAMY LIVE NEWS
A destroyed building on the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia after it was hit by an Israeli air strike (Picture: Mohammed Talatene/DPA/Alamy Live News).

United Nations and Egyptian officials have said ceasefire efforts are under way, however, there are no signs of progress.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the "indiscriminate launching of rockets" from civilian areas in Gaza towards Israeli population centres, but also urged Israel to show "maximum restraint".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself and said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to try to calm the tensions.

The latest upsurge in violence has been triggered by tensions in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with clashes at a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late on Monday, setting off days of fighting.

Israel's military claims militants have fired about 1,500 rockets in three days, while Israel has struck more than 350 targets in Gaza -  a tiny territory where two million Palestinians have lived under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.

Gaza's Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 69 Palestinians, including 16 children and six women.

In Israel, a total of seven people have been killed, including four people who died on Wednesday.

Cover image: Explosions following Israeli air strikes in Gaza city (Picture: Yasser Qudih/Xinhua/Alamy Live News).