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Israeli airstrikes level 7-story building in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven-floor office building and severely damaged a two-story shopping center in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, signaling a new escalation in seven weeks of fighting with Hamas.

The strikes in the southern town of Rafah came just hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-story 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 harboring “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 centers 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.

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-story apartment tower, the target was a fourth-floor apartment where Hamas ran an operations center, 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, the military said. That was in addition to more than 100 on Saturday, most aimed at southern Israel.

Elsewhere, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in open areas in northern Israel. It was not immediately clear whether they were fired by pro-government forces or rebel groups.

Amid persistent violence, Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a durable cease-fire, but stopped short of issuing invitations.

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A Palestinian relative carries the body of 18-month-old Zainah Abu Taqiya, who was killed Sunday morning in an Israeli strike on a building, during her funeral in Gaza, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 24. (AP)

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