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Israel destroys Hamas leader's home in 'single deadliest attack' on Gaza since operation began 

Israel said it destroyed the home of the leader of Hamas in Gaza on Sunday as it unleashed its deadliest round of air strikes in the conflict so far and vowed to use "full force" despite UN calls for an urgent ceasefire.

Video footage published by the army showed plumes of smoke rising from the home of Yahya Sinwar, the most senior Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip, but there were no immediate reports that he had been killed or injured during the strike.

The 58-year-old Gaza chief is regarded as the Islamist group's military and strategic mastermind. He spent two decades in an Israeli prison, speaks fluent Hebrew and is believed to understand the Israeli strategy well, making him a top target for the IDF. 

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) also targeted what they said was a Hamas underground military base in Gaza City with an overnight assault that brought down three residential buildings.   Gaza officials said the attack killed 42 people, including ten children, bringing the total Palestinian death toll to 188, while ten people have died on the Israeli side.

By Sunday night the death toll had reached 197, including 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said that the bombing would continue with "full force" and claimed that the IDF had already destroyed "most" of Hamas' underground tunnels in Gaza.  

"We have struck very hard at Hamas's underground activity," Mr Netanyahu said. "Hamas invested an entire decade and vast capital in the excavation of tunnels; most of it, not all, but a considerable part, is gone.

It came as the IDF said that Hamas has been firing rockets at a higher rate than ever during this month's Gaza conflict, with 2,809 missiles launched towards Israel in just six days.

In contrast, military chiefs said, Hamas fired 4481 rockets over the course of 51 days during the 2014 Gaza war.  

In an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Sunday, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said it was “engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire" and urged them "to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed."

Palestinian diplomat Riyad Mansour said “there are no words that can describe the horrors our people are enduring.”

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli UN representative, accused Hamas of “deliberately using civilians as human shields" and insisted the Jewish state was “taking unparalleled steps” to avoid civilian casualties.

Barbara Woodward, the UK representative, said Britain wanted to see "an urgent cessation of hostilities and calm restored."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stepped up Washington's efforts to defuse tensions in a series of calls on Sunday to the foreign ministers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Throughout Sunday, Hamas continued to fire dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities. Video footage on social media showed that one rocket had destroyed a car in Ashkelon, a town near the Gaza border.

Among the dead on the Israeli side are two children and a man who was killed on Saturday by a Hamas rocket that landed in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, described the loss of life on both the Palestinian and Israeli side as "terrible and unacceptable", warning that the latest conflict could get even worse.

"In these days, violent armed clashes between the Gaza Strip and Israel have taken over, and risk degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction," said the Pope following his Sunday Regina Caeli prayer.

"Numerous people have been injured, and many innocents have died. Among them there are also children, and this is terrible and unacceptable," the 84-year-old pontiff said.

"I ask myself: where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?"

Over the past week, Israel has destroyed numerous buildings in Gaza which it said were housing Hamas commanders as well as Hamas intelligence and military assets.

Among them was a tower block containing the offices of the Associated Press, a major American news agency, as well as the Gaza bureau of the broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Israeli media reported that intelligence about the presence of Hamas in the office block had been shared with Washington.

The journalists were warned that the building was going to be attacked and allowed time to evacuate, leading to surreal scenes as staff turned around their cameras and filmed their own office being destroyed.

However, Associated Press said in a statement that it had "no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building." Mr Netanyahu defended the strike as a "perfectly legitimate target."

"An intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization [was] housed in that building that plots and organises the terror attacks against Israeli civilians," Mr Netanyahu told CBS News.

Over the past week, the Isaeli-Palestinian conflict has seen some of the worst outbreaks of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

In addition to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Arab and Jewish mobs have been attacking each other across the country in what the president of Israel has compared to a “civil war.”

The Sheikh Jarrah eviction process is also fuelling tensions, along with intense clashes at al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem last week where several hundred Palestinians were injured by police.  

The collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem Sunday injured 60 worshippers, medics and local media said.

"Medics and paramedics provide medical care to about 60 injured, including about 10 in critical and severe condition," the Magen David Adom emergency services said.

The incident occurred "as hundreds were congregated" for the Jewish Shavuot feast, a spokesman told Israeli channel Kan.

Seven people were injured by a car-ramming attack in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood which has been the scene of multiple protests over Israeli plans to evict a dozen Palestinian families.

Israeli police said four police officers were wounded in the attack and that the assailant was “shot by officers,” without giving further details.

More than 250 wounded Gazans were evacuated to Egypt for treatment, medical and border sources said, as Cairo called for "concessions" to end the territory's latest conflict with Israel.

The high proportion of child casualties has alarmed human rights groups such as Save The Children, which said that 31 schools have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes.

The charity's own field manager in Gaza, Ibrahim Abu Sobeih, was among those who had to flee their neighbourhoods during the bombings over the past week.

“We keep telling my young daughter and son that the heavy shelling is celebrations, fireworks," he said. "We resort to different ways to distract their attention from this awful atmosphere, but all are in vain.”

Doctors Without Borders said that one of its own clinics in Gaza, which provides trauma and burn treatment, had also been damaged by Israeli fire.

As the death tolls continues to climb, there are also fears that Gaza will soon run out of fuel, electricity and running water. Its residents are already grappling with power outages of several hours at a time, but many cannot afford generators.

Al Haq, a Palestinian NGO, said it had sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations over "the potential, imminent and inevitable collapse of vital sectors in Gaza, including the health, water, environment, sanitation due to attacks on electricity infrastructure."

As the bloodshed continued, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank turned some of their anger on fellow Arab nations which last year signed normalisation treaties with Israel, known as the Abraham Accords.

"Normalisation and running towards this colonial Israeli system without achieving peace and ending the Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands represents support for the apartheid regime and participation in its crimes," Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister said.

He appeared to be referring to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who established full diplomatic ties with Israel last year and have struck a number of trade deals.

Middle East analysts noted that it took several days before Mohamed al-Khaja, the Emirati ambassador to Israel, issued a public statement on the violence.

He eventually tweeted: " [UAE foreign minister] HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed emphasizes that the UAE is calling to immediately stop the escalating spiral of violence between Israel and Palestinians and calls to promote a dialogue for peace between the parties."

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