AUG. 23, 2014
Israeli Strike Destroys Apartment Tower in Gaza
By ISABEL KERSHNER and FARES AKRAM
JERUSALEM -- An Israeli missile strike on an 11-story apartment tower in Gaza City brought the entire building crashing down on Saturday, soon after its residents were told to evacuate, according to residents and the military. The attack signaled Israel's willingness to take more audacious military action in Gaza, as Palestinian militants continued to fire barrages of rockets and mortar rounds into Israel.
Ten people were wounded in the strike on the apartment building, four of them children, according to a health ministry spokesman in Gaza.
Earlier in the day, the government of Egypt and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority issued calls in Cairo for a new, open-ended cease-fire in Gaza and a resumption of indirect talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to bring an end to the fighting, which shows no sign of abating after more than six weeks. Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said in a statement that the Palestinian groups were studying Egypt's call to return to negotiations. Israel refuses to negotiate under fire.
The Israeli military said the apartment building contained an operational command and control center of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates the Palestinian coastal territory, and that operatives were using the building as a base for their activities. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, could not immediately specify which floor, or floors, of the building were the targets in the attack, or whether the intention had been to destroy the whole tower.
The military said residents of the building, known as Al Zafer Tower 4, were given warning by telephone and by means of a small warning missile fired at the roof.
Israel has fired missiles to destroy apartments within a building, but this was the first time since the start of its military offensive  on July 8 that a strike had completely brought down so large a building.
Hesham Saqallah, a father of four who lived on the first floor, said a resident received a warning call about 6 p.m. and started shouting in the stairwell to alert his neighbors to leave. About 20 or 30 minutes later, he said, a missile fired from a drone hit the roof, and about 20 minutes after that, a warplane struck.
Mr. Saqallah said there were 42 apartments in the building and that it was purely residential, with no offices.
As for the Israelis' claim that the building housed a Hamas base, he said, "They are lying."
"I did not take anything from my home, even my money, because I thought they would hit a specific apartment or floor," Mr. Saqallah said. "I did not expect they would bring down the entire tower."
The attack followed airstrikes on Thursday that killed three senior Hamas commanders, and the attempted assassination on Tuesday night of the chief of Hamas's military wing, Mohammed Deif, whose fate remains unknown.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it had conveyed warnings over the course of the day to residents across the Gaza Strip using text messages, recorded messages and leaflets, saying that Israel would attack any area or house "from which terror activities against Israel originate."
The warnings advised residents to prevent their property from being used by militants, and to stay away from militant sites, according to the text of one of the leaflets, which the military also distributed to reporters. It ended with a clear message: "Beware."
Colonel Lerner, the military spokesman, added, "Hamas will not be free to continue its indiscriminate aggression against Israel from the comfort of high-rise buildings, farmhouses or greenhouses."
The military released footage on Saturday showing rockets being launched from what it said was a medical facility in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City.
In other Israeli airstrikes on Saturday, at least 10 Palestinians were killed, including four women and three children in strikes on two homes in the central Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Gaza militants launched more than 100 rockets and mortar rounds against Israel during the day. At least two rockets that were fired after the building collapse reached the Tel Aviv area. One was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome antimissile defense system, and another apparently landed in open ground.
On Saturday night, at least one rocket fired from southern Lebanon struck the Upper Galilee region in northern Israel, according to the police, causing damage to a house and wounding a child. Rockets from Lebanon have landed across the border in Israel at least twice before during the current Gaza conflict, in what may be a show of solidarity by Palestinian groups in Lebanon. On Friday, a mortar round fired from Gaza killed an Israeli boy, 4, in a small community near the border, and an off-duty soldier was critically wounded by a rocket that struck a road near the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Fares Akram from Gaza.