Israel’s Fiercest Air Strikes on Gaza Leave Trail of Destruction

Israel said it had reclaimed control of the Gaza border, pounding the enclave with the fiercest air strikes in the 75-year history of its conflict with the Palestinians. The air campaign pressed into a third day as Israel sought to destroy Hamas’s ability to attack, and the country braced for a possible ground assault on the densely populated coastal enclave. Thousands of rockets from Gaza have hit northern cities and towns since the offensive began on Saturday, with direct hits in Tel Aviv, Netivot, and Ashkelon.

The Israeli military smashed Hamas’ command and control centers, and the army destroyed its rocket-launching facilities, putting it “on notice that the crossing will not be allowed to serve as a launch pad for terror attacks against Israel.” It also targeted a network of tunnels militants use to hide from Israel’s surveillance systems and move weapons under their homes. The network, dubbed by the military a “metropolitan underground,” is so extensive that it is often difficult to tell which homes are being hit by airstrikes.

There was no immediate official count of the dead or missing. Still, Israel’s sense of security and unassailable military superiority has been shaken by the ferocity of the attacks that began on Saturday. The government vowed to take its “mighty revenge” against Hamas, and an aircraft carrier and many fighter jets sailed toward Gaza as reserves girded for an offensive.

But the violence is also shaking families whose loved ones are missing, who are desperate for information and seeking clues online. They use social media to share photographs of their lost relatives and plead for their return. Some have started making video recordings, hoping to catch the attention of a news organization or a journalist.

Despite the furious rhetoric, Israel’s political leaders seek to contain the war and avoid a wider conflict with Hezbollah. This armed Lebanese Shiite militia fought a devastating war against Israel in 2006. The White House has insisted that there must be a return to talks that would lead to a two-state solution, while Russia and China have called for an end to the fighting.

An Israeli spokesman said the army had seized control of the area on the Gaza border, which it previously controlled intermittently and when prompted by threats to civilians. The spokesman, Brigadier-General Gal Hirsch, who led a brigade during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, said his forces had demolished many militant structures. “The price that the Gaza Strip will pay for this will be very high and change reality for generations to come,” he said. In a sign that Israel was tightening its grip on the territory, it called up hundreds of thousands of reservists and placed the entire country’s reserve units on standby. It also tasked a veteran general, Gen. Yoav Gallant, with tracking and coordinating the airstrikes. He will report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has promised a swift and severe response to the rocket fire.

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