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Israel: “Retaliation against Hamas to reverberate for generations”

Israel unleashed relentless bombardment on Gaza City on Tuesday, promising that retaliatory measures against Hamas militants would “reverberate … for generations.”

At least 1,600 people have been killed in the fighting that began after Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Saturday. The war is only expected to escalate further as questions arise over whether Israel will launch a ground invasion after mass mobilisation of reservists, and Hamas has threatened to kill captured Israelis if it strikes civilians.

Israel reports that Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza are holding more than 150 soldiers and civilians hostage. The Israeli army said it had regained control of the south and the border, which was breached over the weekend in an attack that caught Israeli intelligence by surprise.

The military said that the bodies of about 1,500 Hamas fighters were found in Israeli territory.

The Israeli army says it has carried out hundreds of strikes on the Rimal neighbourhood in Gaza City, a densely populated elite area that houses ministries of the Hamas-run government as well as universities, media outlets and offices of humanitarian organisations.

After hours of continuous strikes, the streets of Gaza are reduced to rubble, buildings torn in half, cars flattened, trees burned out. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address late on Monday:

“We have only started striking Hamas. What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”

The destruction in Rimal was a sign of a new Israeli tactic: warning civilians to leave certain areas and then launching airstrikes of unprecedented intensity. If such bombardment continues, Gaza’s civilians will have fewer and fewer places to hide as more and more neighbourhoods become ruined.

The UN reports that more than 187,000 of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been forced from their homes – the most since Israel’s air and ground offensive displaced some 400,000 people in 2014. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has sheltered more than 137,000 people in schools across the territory. Families have sheltered about 41,000 people. Asked whether Israel considers Hamas’ civilian authorities, such as parliament and ministries, to be legitimate targets, Lt Col Hecht replied:

 “If there’s a gunman firing rockets from there, it turns into a military target”.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing, said the group would kill one Israeli civilian prisoner each time in response to Israeli air attacks “without prior warning.” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen warned Hamas against harming any of the hostages, saying:

“This war crime will not be forgiven.”

Israel is now governed by the most hard right-wing government in its history, with ministers who categorically reject Palestinian statehood.

Earlier, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete blockade” of Gaza. As part of the order, authorities will cut off electricity and block the entry of food and fuel. Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the blockade would be a “utter disaster” for Gazans. He told The Associated Press:

“There is no doubt that collective punishment is in violation of international law. If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because of lack of energy, electricity and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.”

Hamas representatives, for their part, said they were ready to continue fighting to end the Israeli occupation, which they said could no longer be tolerated.

Despair is growing among Palestinians, many of whom see nothing to lose in the face of continued Israeli control and increasing settler looting in the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza and what they see as the indifference of the world community.

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