More rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Wednesday, and Israel’s military said it was striking more targets as the violence that has so far killed at least 40 people continued, officials said.
Gaza’s health ministry said Wednesday that 35 people had been killed. An Israeli police spokesman said Wednesday that two people died in a rocket strike overnight, bringing their death toll to five.
The fighting between Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, and Israel has involved hundreds of rockets and airstrikes in the most intense exchange of fire since 2014.
Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, on Tuesday called for an immediate end to the firing, tweeting: “We’re escalating towards a full scale war.”
On Tuesday, Israeli airstrikes flattened a residential building in Gaza, which was 13 stories tall. The Israel Defense Forces said it struck a multi-story building in the Rimal neighborhood being used by Hamas and that it provided advance warning to civilians. No casualties have been reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad “have paid, and, I tell you here, will pay a very heavy price for their aggression.” He said Israeli forces were in the midst of a “major campaign.”
Ziyad Al-Nakhalah, secretary general of the Islamic Jihad movement, said his group “will continue this battle, and we promise our people that we will not retreat and will continue to resist, God willing.”
Recent hostility centered on Jerusalem’s Old City, which has some of the holiest sites for Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Unrest has been fueled by plans to evict Palestinian families from a neighborhood in east Jerusalem whose land is claimed by Jewish settlers.
Tensions escalated Friday and Monday as Israeli police used stun grenades and rubber bullets on Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Israeli officials said it was in response to rocks thrown at its forces and toward the Western Wall, where thousands of Jews had gathered to pray.
Hamas fired rockets Monday after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in earlier clashes with Israeli forces.
The Israeli Defense Forces said Wednesday that around 1,050 rockets had been fired from Gaza in the past 38 hours, and that of those, 850 were either intercepted by air defense systems or landed in Israel. The other 200 landed in Gaza and did not cross the border.
The IDF said that it has conducted its largest strikes against “terror targets” since 2014, when there was a 50-day war. It said it had destroyed two high-rise buildings in Gaza.
Gaza’s health ministry said 35 people have died, including 12 children. It said more than 230 others have been wounded.
Israeli emergency services had said three women were killed in a direct rocket hit, and 30 other people have been injured in rocket fire. An Israeli police spokesperson said Wednesday that a man and a woman died after a direct rocket strike in the area of Lod, which is southeast of Tel Aviv, overnight which brought the deaths to five.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was “gravely concerned” about the escalating violence, his spokesman said in a statement.
“Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force,” the statement said. “The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres is unacceptable.”
The booms of Israeli airstrikes and hisses of outgoing rocket fire could be heard in Gaza throughout the day, and large plumes of smoke from targeted buildings rose into the air. Israel resumed a policy of airstrikes aimed at killing wanted militants and began to take down entire buildings — a tactic that drew heavy international criticism in 2014.
In Israel, the nonstop barrages of rocket fire left long streaks of white smoke in their wake, while the explosions of anti-rocket interceptors boomed overhead. Air-raid sirens wailed throughout the day, sending panicked residents scurrying for cover.
Paul Goldman, Lawahez Jabari and The Associated Press contributed.