According to witnesses, the Gaza storm collapses after the Israeli air strike

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© Reuters. Flames and smoke rise during Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2021. REUTERS / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA / JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A 13-story block of flats in the Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday evening after being hit by an Israeli air strike.

Video footage showed three thick clouds of smoke rising from the tower. The upper floors were still intact until they fell to the ground. The tower houses an office that is used by the political leadership of the Islamist rulers of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The electricity in the vicinity of the building went out after the collapse. Residents used flashlights to look for personal items nearby.

Israel had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza and massed tanks at the border on Tuesday as missile barriers hit Israeli cities for a second day, exacerbating a conflict that killed at least 28 people in the Palestinian enclave and two in Israel .

The worst outbreak of fighting since 2019 between Israel and armed factions in Gaza was sparked by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday.

According to witnesses, residents of the tower and people living nearby had been warned to evacuate the area about an hour before the air strike. It was not immediately clear whether the building had been completely evacuated or whether there were casualties.

The holy city of Jerusalem was tense during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and the threat of a court ruling to evict Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers added to the friction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would step up its strikes against Gaza, an enclave of 2 million people, in response to the rocket attacks that continued into the early evening.

“Both the strength of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks are increasing,” he said in a video statement.

Within an hour, Israel said it had used 80 jets to bomb missile launch sites in and around Gaza City. Clouds of smoke rose from densely populated residential areas.

Officials said infantry and armaments would be dispatched to reinforce tanks already assembled at the border, bringing back memories of the last Israeli land incursion into Gaza to halt rocket attacks in 2014.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 2,100 Gazans were killed, 73 Israelis and thousands of houses in Gaza were destroyed in the ensuing seven-week war.

On Tuesday, before the bloc collapsed, the Gaza Strip Health Ministry said at least 28 Palestinians, including 10 children, had been killed in Israeli strikes and 152 injured since Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.

Israel’s national ambulance service said two women were killed in rocket attacks on the southern city of Ashkelon.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on all sides to resign and reminded them of the obligation under international law to avoid civilian casualties.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel, but also said he was concerned about the risk of evictions for Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

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