Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

The Israeli military unleashed another heavy wave of airstrikes yesterday on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders.

Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

The Israeli military unleashed another heavy wave of airstrikes yesterday on the Gaza Strip, saying it destroyed militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders.

International diplomacy to end the week-long war that has killed hundreds appeared to make little headway.

Israel has said it will press on for now with its attacks against Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and the United States signalled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire.

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The latest attacks destroyed the five-story building housing the Hamas-run Religious Affairs Ministry, a building Israel said housed the main operations centre of Hamas' internal security forces.

Israel also killed a top Gaza leader of Islamic Jihad, another militant group whom the Israeli military blamed for some of the thousands of rocket attacks launched at Israel in recent days.

Israel said its strikes destroyed 15 kilometres of tunnels used by militants.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed in the week of airstrikes, including 59 children and 35 women, with some 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Ten people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.

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Violence has also erupted between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, leaving scores of people injured. Yesterday, a Jewish man attacked last week by a group of Arabs in the central city of Lod died of his wounds, according to police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials last night and later said Israel would "continue to strike terror targets" in Gaza.

"We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens," he said.

The new airstrikes, which hit Gaza overnight and again in the evening, hollowed out one floor of a multi-story concrete building and killed five people.

A woman picked through clothing, rubble and splintered furniture in a room that had been destroyed.

One strike demolished the wall of one room, leaving untouched an open cabinet filled with bedding inside. Children walked over debris in the road.

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A car in the street that witnesses said was hit by an airstrike was bent and torn, its roof ripped back and what was left of the driver's side door smeared with blood.

A beachside cafe the car had just left was splintered and on fire. Rescue workers tried to put out the blaze with a small fire extinguisher.

Gaza City's mayor, Yahya Sarraj, said the strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure. He said water supplies to hundreds of households were disrupted.

"We are trying hard to provide water, but the situation remains difficult," he said.

The UN has warned that the territory's sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel. Gaza already experiences daily power outages for between eight and 12 hours, and tap water is undrinkable.

Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the territory's electricity distribution company, said it has fuel to supply Gaza with electricity for two or three days.

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Israel also said it targeted what it suspected was a Hamas submergible weapon preparing for an attack on Israel's coast.

The war broke out May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the holy city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.

The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

More protests were expected across the region today in response to a call by Palestinian citizens of Israel for a general strike. The protest has the support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

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The Biden administration has declined so far to publicly criticise Israel's part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region.

Yesterday, the United States again blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement calling for an end to "the crisis related to Gaza" and the protection of civilians, especially children.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Denmark, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would support any initiative to stop the fighting, but signalled the country did not intend to put pressure on the two sides to accept a cease-fire.

"Ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spoke yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasised her country's solidarity with Israel, condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza, and expressed hope for a swift end to the fighting, according to her office.

Hamas' top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who is based abroad, said the group has been contacted by the UN, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of cease-fire efforts but "will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people."

Since the fighting began, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas' militant infrastructure.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3200 rockets into Israel. Israeli military officials said Hamas had stockpiled about 15,000 rockets before the war started.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces full diplomatic ties will be established with the United Arab Emirates, during a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 in Jerusalem. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

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Rocket attacks continued yesterday, with one hitting a building in the city of Ashdod that caused injuries, the Israeli police said.

Israel's airstrikes have levelled a number of Gaza City's tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Mr Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Mr Blinken said he hasn't yet seen any evidence supporting Israel's claim.

AP President Gary Pruitt called for an independent investigation into the attack.

"As we have said, we have no indication of a Hamas presence in the building, nor were we warned of any such possible presence before the airstrike," he said in a statement.

"This is something we check as best we can. We do not know what the Israeli evidence shows, and we want to know."

The Israeli military said it struck 35 "terror targets" yesterday as well as the tunnels, which it says are part of an elaborate system it refers to as the "Metro," used by fighters to take cover from airstrikes.

They included a strike against a building that housed the Qatari Red Crescent, Qatar said. That attack killed a man and a 12-year-old girl.

The tunnels extend for hundreds of kilometres, with some more than 20 metres deep, according to an Israeli Air Force official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, in keeping with regulations.

The official said Israel was not trying to destroy all the tunnels, just chokepoints and major junctions.

The military also said it struck nine houses in different parts of northern Gaza that belonged to "high-ranking commanders" in Hamas. Islamic Jihad said a strike killed Hasam Abu Harbid, the militant group's commander for the northern Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130 and has released the names of and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were "eliminated."

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, does not give a breakdown of how many casualties were militants or civilians.

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New US law makes death row inmates choose electric chair or firing squad

A US governor has signed a new law forcing death row inmates to choose the electric chair or firing squad.

New US law makes death row inmates choose electric chair or firing squad

A US governor has signed into law a bill that forces death row inmates, for now, to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad in hopes his state can restart executions after an involuntary 10-year pause.

Two inmates who have exhausted their appeals immediately sued, saying they can't be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default execution method.

South Carolina had been one of the most prolific states of its size in putting inmates to death. But a lack of lethal injection drugs brought executions to a halt.

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Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill on Friday with no ceremony or fanfare, according to the state Legislature's website.

It's the first bill the governor decided to deal with after nearly 50 hit his desk Thursday.

"The families and loved ones of victims are owed closure and justice by law. Now, we can provide it," Mr McMaster said on Twitter yesterday.

Last week state lawmakers gave their final sign-offs to the bill, which retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if it doesn't.

Prosecutors said three inmates have exhausted all their normal appeals, but can't be killed because, under the previous law, inmates who don't choose the state's 109-year-old electric chair automatically are scheduled to die by lethal injection.

They have all chosen the method that can't be carried out.

How soon executions can begin is up in the air.

The electric chair is ready to use.

Prison officials have been doing preliminary research into how firing squads carry out executions in other states but are not sure how long it will take to have one in place in South Carolina.

The other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

Three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the US reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century, and South Carolina is one of eight states that can still electrocute inmates, according to the centre.

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"These are execution methods that previously were replaced by lethal injection, which is considered more humane, and it makes South Carolina the only state going back to the less humane execution methods," Lindsey Vann of Justice 360, a non-profit that represents many of the men on South Carolina's death row, said.

Two of the three inmates with no more traditional appeals sued yesterday to stop any attempts to make them face the electric chair or a firing squad.

Lawyers for Freddie Owens said he chose lethal injection under the old law and he can't be resentenced to a different execution method without violating his constitutional rights.

Lawyers for Brad Sigmon made similar arguments.

He did not choose between lethal injection and the electric chair and under the old law would have been given the lethal injection by default.

Legal arguments by both inmates in state court said the new execution law is "so vague that the process and consequences of the election decision are unclear to a person of ordinary intelligence".

From 1996 to 2009, South Carolina executed about three inmates a year on average.

But a lull in death row inmates reaching the end of their appeals coincided a few years later with pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell states the drugs needed to sedate inmates, relax their muscles and stop their hearts.

South Carolina's last execution took place in May 2011, and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013.

Supporters of the bill said the death penalty remains legal in South Carolina, and the state owes it to the family of the victims to find a way to carry out the punishment.

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Opponents brought up the case of 14-year-old George Stinney, who South Carolina sent to the electric chair in 1944 after a one-day trial in the deaths of two white girls.

He was the youngest person executed in the US in the 20th century.

A judge threw out the black teen's conviction in 2014.

George's case is a reminder the death penalty in South Carolina has always been "racist, arbitrary, and error-prone" and continues to be, said Frank Knaack, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"In the midst of a national reckoning around systemic racism, our Governor ensured that South Carolina's death penalty — a system rooted in racial terror and lynchings — is maintained," Mr Knaack said in a statement.

Nineteen of the 37 inmates currently on the state's death row are black.

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