A general view of the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, is seen in Gaza City August 24, 2014. Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt hostilities and resume peace talks, but both sides kept up attacks, including the Israeli air strike which destroyed the residential tower block in the centre of Gaza City. Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Israeli airstrikes levelled a seven-floor office building and severely damaged a two-storey shopping centre in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, signalling a new escalation in seven weeks of fighting with Hamas.
And in another development, aides to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday he will soon appeal to the international community to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and make way for an independent Palestinian state.
Abbas will present his proposal as part of a "day after" plan following the end of the current war in the Gaza Strip, the aides said from Ramallah in the West Bank. Abbas is expected to unveil his plan at a meeting of the Palestinian leadership on Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because he has not yet made the plan public
In Gaza, the strikes in the southern town of Rafah came just hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-storey building with 44 apartments. Around 30 people were wounded in the strikes, but no one was killed, Palestinian officials said.
The targeting of large buildings appears to be part of a new military tactic by Israel. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents in automated phone calls that it would target buildings harbouring "terrorist infrastructure" and that they should stay away.
A senior military official confirmed that Israel has a policy of striking at buildings containing Hamas operational centres or those from which military activities are launched. The official said each strike required prior approval from military lawyers and is carried out only after the local population is warned.
However, he said, there was now a widening of locations that the military can target. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter with reporters.
Every structure used by Hamas 'a target'
Speaking ahead of Israel's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents to keep their distance from Hamas militants.
"I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror," he said. "Every one of these structures is a target for us."
In the 12-storey apartment tower, the target was a fourth-floor apartment where Hamas ran an operations centre, according to Israeli media. In the past, Israel has carried out pinpoint strikes, targeting apartments in high-rises with missiles, while leaving the buildings standing. However, this time a decision was made to bring down the entire tower, according to Channel 10, an Israeli TV station.
The military declined immediate comment when asked why it collapsed the entire building instead of striking a specific apartment.
Meanwhile, Gaza militants continued to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, including at least 10 on Sunday, one of which wounded three people on the Israeli side of the main Gaza crossing, the military said. The Erez crossing is used by journalists, aid workers and Palestinians with Israeli permits to enter or leave Gaza.
That was in addition to more than 100 on Saturday, most aimed at southern Israel.
Egypt urges resumption of talks
Amid persistent violence, Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire, but stopped short of issuing invitations.
Several rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have collapsed, along with temporary ceasefires that accompanied them. The gaps between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and there's no sign either is willing to budge.
The UN estimates that more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since the war began on July 8. In some of the attacks, family homes with three or four floors were pulverized.
However, the weekend strikes marked the first time large buildings were toppled.
Since the fighting began, Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza while Gaza militants have fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, including close to 500 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials and UN figures. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians.
In Ramallah, one official said that Abbas has grown disillusioned after two decades of failed efforts to reach a negotiated peace settlement with Israel. He said the Palestinians want a fixed date for an Israeli withdrawal from lands claimed by the Palestinians and a timetable for establishing a Palestinian state.
"This should be done through a mechanism to compel Israel as the occupying power to end its occupation and agree on a timetable for the implementation of the withdrawal," he said.
With Israel at war with Hamas militants in Gaza, Abbas has been searching for ways to assert himself on the international stage.
In an interview on Egyptian television over the weekend, Abbas said he would soon present his plans to Arab, American and European leaders.
"It is an unconventional solution, but I will not declare a war on Israel. It is a political and diplomatic solution," he said
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