TEL AVIV — The Israeli military Tuesday said it plans to expand its bombardment of the Hamas tunnel networks that run under civilian areas in Gaza in the coming days despite growing international calls for a cease-fire. Violence engulfed the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians held demonstrations in solidarity.
In a day of escalating conflict on multiple fronts, at least three Palestinians in the West Bank died and more than 120 were injured, many by live ammunition, in confrontations with Israeli soldiers, health authorities there said.
Israeli commanders said protesters had “fired extensively’ at Israeli troops, injuring two soldiers. The Palestinian demonstrations, in the West Bank and towns across Israel, came on the ninth day of conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Rocket sirens sounded across southern Israel Tuesday as volleys were fired from Gaza following Israeli airstrikes overnight. Two Thai workers in Israel were killed in rocket strikes, Israeli police said.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli military said 62 fighter jets dropped 110 “guided armaments” overnight on targets in Gaza, focusing on the Hamas tunnel networks that snake under densely populated territory.
President Joe Biden has joined growing international calls for a cease-fire, but there was no sign the operation was coming to an end. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus called the tunnels the “backbone” of Hamas’s operations and said the campaign to obliterate the subterranean network “will be expanded” in the coming days.
As long as the militant group can fire rockets, Conricus said, “the topic of any de-escalation is obviously not on the table.” He said targets would be chosen to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible.
But strikes are hitting tunnels under residential streets. At least 42 people were killed during Israeli airstrikes early Sunday, according to Gaza health authorities. Israel has said those were unintended casualties caused when buildings collapsed in strikes that targeted tunnels.
“That kind of event is something we are trying to minimize,” Conricus said.
Palestinian militants targeted Israeli towns and cities near Gaza with rockets and large-caliber mortar fire, the armed groups said in statements Tuesday.
Dramatic footage that circulated on social media showed a rocket slamming into the side of a high-rise building in Ashdod, an Israeli port city north of Gaza.
The two Thai workers were killed in the Eshkol region in southern Israel, police said. An Israeli soldier was injured in a mortar attack near the Gaza border, the Israeli military said.
The armed wing of Hamas said it had “bombarded” the city of Sderot, launched missiles at Ashdod and attacked a group of Israeli soldiers north of Gaza.
The fighting prompted Israel to close the Kerem Shalom border crossing that it said was opened briefly earlier Tuesday to allow some aid to enter the besieged enclave. The crossing is the main source of fuel for the Gaza Strip; shortages mean that many Gazans are getting only three or four hours of power a day.
Israel, under growing international pressure, has so far declined entreaties from outside mediators, including Egyptians, to halt its campaign, two officials familiar with cease-fire talks told The Washington Post. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations.
“The [Israel Defense Forces are] not talking about a cease-fire,” the military’s chief spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday, Reuters reported. “We’re focused on the firing.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States received intelligence from Israel on the bombing Saturday of the high-rise building in Gaza that housed The Associated Press and other outlets.
“We did seek further information from Israel on this question,” the secretary of state said at a news conference in Iceland. “It’s my understanding that we’ve received some further information through intelligence channels, and it’s not something I can comment on.”
The 12-story al-Jalaa tower was destroyed during an Israeli bombardment of Gaza City that followed a barrage of Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The attack drew international condemnation. Israel said the tower contained military assets belonging to Hamas.
Palestinians called a general strike Tuesday in solidarity with Gaza and against the Israeli occupation. Peaceful protests took place in many towns and cities. The strike, organized by an array of grassroots groups and political parties, was also taken up by Arab communities in Israel.
Ines Abdel Razak, a Palestinian activist from Jerusalem, described the strikes as a “moment of mobilization and rising.”
“I think we’re all trying to follow and build this momentum,” she said.
Shops closed their shutters in Jerusalem, the West Bank and in mixed cities and Arab neighborhoods in Israel from Lod to Jaffa and Haifa. Construction sites lay idle. Many students stayed home from school. Some restaurants in West Jerusalem closed or served limited menus as Palestinian workers stayed away.
“Everybody is taking part in the strike because people felt that the threat is very close to them,” said Raja Zaatary, a spokesman for the Arab High-Follow Up Committee, one of the organizers.
“People say it’s not just about Gaza and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa,” he said, referring to a key mosque in Jerusalem. “It’s about our neighborhoods, our houses, our future.”
For some it meant putting their livelihoods at risk. Aya Baidossi, a 23-year-old architect from Baqa Gharbiya in northern Israel, said she sent her boss a message Monday saying she would not be coming into work because of the strike. After a brief text exchange, she said, she was fired.
Baidossi said she “was always far from politic,” but joined in the strike because “I want to join with my people … We feel that this country is not giving us our rights.”
But in the West Bank, some demonstrations turned to bloodshed. In Ramallah, protesters chanted and waved Palestinian flags under a cloud of dark smoke from burning tires. Then demonstrators marched toward the nearby Israeli settlement of Beit El.
Israeli drones were soon shown on a live broadcast dropping tear gas canisters on demonstrators. Medics ferried the wounded to ambulances. Protesters threw stones at army vehicles. The Israeli military said soldiers were fired on from among the demonstrations — an unusual occurrence in the routine clashes between Palestinians and security forces.
Palestinian health authorities said at least 14 people were injured by live ammunition in Ramallah. Another 25 people in Nablus, three in Bethlehem and one in Jenin suffered gunshot wounds, they said.
The Israeli military said soldiers thwarted an attack by an armed Palestinian man in the restive city of Hebron.
In Gaza, the Israeli assault has devastated the civilian infrastructure, according to the United Nations and relief agencies, disrupting power lines, sanitation networks and other basic services.
Airstrikes have damaged or destroyed nearly 450 buildings across Gaza, displacing more than 52,000 people, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday in Geneva.
Of those displaced, about 47,000 have sought refuge in 58 U.N.-run schools in Gaza, the United Nations said.
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Berger reported from Jerusalem, Balousha from Gaza City and Cunningham from Istanbul. The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix in Erez, Israel, and John Hudson in Reykjavik, Iceland, contributed to this report.