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Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

An Israeli soldier inspects damage to an apartment in a residential building after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel, Monday, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

By FARES AKRAM and RAVI NESSMAN, GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military unleashed another heavy wave of airstrikes Monday on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. International diplomacy to end the weeklong war that has killed hundreds appeared to be making little headway.

Israel has said it will press on for now with its attacks against Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and the United States signaled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire.

The latest attacks destroyed the five-story building housing the Hamas-run Religious Affairs Ministry, a building Israel said housed the main operations center of Hamas’ internal security forces. Israel also killed a top Gaza leader of Islamic Jihad, another militant group whom the Israeli military blamed for some of the thousands of rocket attacks launched at Israel in recent days. Israel said its strikes destroyed 15 kilometers (9 miles) of tunnels used by militants.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed in the week of airstrikes, including 59 children and 35 women, with some 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.

Violence has also erupted between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, leaving scores of people injured. On Monday, a Jewish man attacked last week by a group of Arabs in the central city of Lod died of his wounds, according to police.

The new airstrikes, which hit Gaza overnight Monday and again in the evening, hollowed out one floor of a multistory concrete building and killed five people. A woman picked through clothing, rubble and splintered furniture in a room that had been destroyed. One strike demolished the wall of one room, leaving untouched an open cabinet filled with bedding inside. Children walked over debris in the road.

A car in the street that witnesses said was hit by an airstrike was bent and torn, its roof ripped back and what was left of the driver’s side door smeared with blood. A beachside cafe the car had just left was splintered and on fire. Rescue workers tried to put out the blaze with a small fire extinguisher.

Gaza City’s mayor, Yahya Sarraj, said the strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure. He said water supplies to hundreds of households were disrupted. “We are trying hard to provide water, but the situation remains difficult,” he said.

The U.N. has warned that the territory’s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel. Gaza already experiences daily power outages for between eight and 12 hours, and tap water is undrinkable. Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the territory’s electricity distribution company, said it has fuel to supply Gaza with electricity for two or three days.

Israel also said it targeted what it suspected was a Hamas submergible weapon preparing for an attack on Israel’s coast.

The war broke out May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

More protests were expected across the region Tuesday in response to a call by Palestinian citizens of Israel for a general strike. The protest has the support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

The Biden administration has declined so far to publicly criticize Israel’s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region. On Monday, the United States again blocked a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling for an end to “the crisis related to Gaza” and the protection of civilians, especially children.

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