Before dawn, in the space of just a few minutes, dozens of Israeli strikes bombarded the crowded coastal Palestinian enclave controlled by Islamist group Hamas, according to AFP journalists and the army.
Flames lit up the sky as intense explosions shook Gaza city, sparking widespread power cuts and damaging hundreds of buildings, local authorities said. No casualties were immediately reported.
Some 3,100 rockets have also been fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel since conflict escalated on May 10 in the heaviest exchange of fire between the rivals in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem.
On Monday morning, an AFP reporter in Gaza saw huge plumes of grey smoke billow from a mattress foam factory, as civil defence members aimed high-pressure water hoses at the blaze.
West Gaza resident Mad Abed Rabbo, 39, expressed “horror and fear” at the intensity of the onslaught.
“There have never been strikes of this magnitude,” he said.
Gaza resident Mani Qazaat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should realise we’re civilians, not fighters”.
“I felt like I was dying,” he said.
Israel’s army said in a statement that it hit the homes of nine “high-ranking” Hamas commanders, without providing details on casualties.
The overnight bombardment also included a third round of strikes on what the army calls the “Metro,” its term for a Hamas underground tunnel network.
Fifty-four fighter jets pounded 15 kilometres (nine miles) of tunnels, which the army has previously acknowledged runs in part through civilian areas.
The renewed strikes come a day after 42 Palestinians in Gaza — including at least eight children and two doctors, according to the health ministry — were killed in the worst daily death toll in the enclave since the bombardments began.
In total, 197 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 58 children, and more than 1,200 wounded since Israel launched its air campaign against Hamas on May 10 after the group fired rockets, according to the authorities there.
Israel says 10 people, including one child, have been killed and 294 wounded by rocket fire launched by armed groups in Gaza.
Israel’s army said about 3,100 rockets had been fired in the past week from Gaza — the highest rate ever recorded — but added its Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over 1,000.
Netanyahu said in a televised address Sunday that Israel’s “campaign against the terrorist organisations is continuing with full force” and would “take time” to finish.
Israeli air strikes also hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’s political wing in Gaza, the army said, releasing footage of plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.
On Saturday, Israel gave journalists from Al Jazeera and AP news agency an hour to evacuate their offices before launching air strikes, turning their tower block into piles of smoking rubble.
Netanyahu on Sunday said the building also hosted a Palestinian “terrorist” intelligence office, and claimed it was a “perfectly legitimate target”.
The violence between Hamas and Israel is the worst since 2014, when Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip with the stated aim of ending rocket fire and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.
The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
Opening the first session of the UN Security Council on the renewed violence on Sunday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the fighting “utterly appalling”.
“It must stop immediately,” he said.
But the UN talks, already delayed by Israel’s ally the United States, resulted in little action, with Washington opposing a resolution.
President Joe Biden‘s administration says it is working behind the scenes, and that a Security Council statement could backfire.
Israel is also trying to contain inter-communal violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well unrest in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say Israeli forces have killed 19 Palestinians since May 10.
Clashes broke out at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound — one of Islam’s holiest sites — on May 7 after Israeli forces moved in on worshippers, following a crackdown against protests over planned expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Sheikh Jarrah has been at the heart of the flareup, seeing weeks of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.
The Israeli police said a car-ramming attack in Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday wounded seven police officers, and that Israeli forces had killed the attacker.
Police also arrested several people amid clashes in another east Jerusalem neighbourhood overnight Sunday.
Guterres warned the fighting could have far-reaching consequences if not stopped immediately.
“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole.”