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Israeli missile destroys apartment tower in Gaza

JERUSALEM — An Israeli missile strike on an 11-story apartment tower in Gaza City brought the building crashing down 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 continue to fire barrages of rockets and mortar rounds into Israel.

Ten people were injured in the strike on the apartment building, four of them children, according to a Health Ministry spokesman in Gaza.

Earlier in the day, the Egyptian government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued calls in Cairo for a new, open-ended cease-fire in Gaza, as well as 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.

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 operatives were using the building as a base for their activities. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, could not specify which floor, or floors, of the building were targeted in the attack, or whether the intention had been to destroy the whole tower.

The military said residents of the building, known as Zafer Tower 4, were warned by telephone and by means of a small warning missile fired at the roof.

Israel has previously fired missiles to destroy particular apartments within a building, but this was the first time since the military campaign began July 8 that a strike had brought down so large a building. The attack followed airstrikes Thursday that killed three senior Hamas commanders, and the attempted assassination Tuesday night of the chief of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, whose fate remains unknown.

Hesham Saqallah, a father of four who lived on the first floor, said a resident received a warning call at 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.

Saqallah said there were 42 apartments in the building, which 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," Saqallah said. "I did not expect they would bring down the entire tower."

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 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."

In other Israeli airstrikes 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.

Palestinians gather in front of the rubble of the apartment tower destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Israel issued warnings for residents to leave the building — and not to help Hamas.

Associated Press

Palestinians gather in front of the rubble of the apartment tower destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Israel issued warnings for residents to leave the building — and not to help Hamas.

Israeli missile destroys apartment tower in Gaza 08/24/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2014 12:22am]

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