GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel sent a warplane to bomb the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City early Monday, the second airstrike on the ministry in a week, pushing ahead with its three-week offensive in Gaza after militants killed two soldiers and captured a third.
An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw clouds of smoke rising from the already damaged building after the strike by an Israeli warplane. At least nine people in nearby houses were injured, rescue workers said.
The Israeli military confirmed it struck the Palestinian Foreign Ministry as "part of ongoing operations."
The huge blast collapsed an eight-story wing of the building and damaged houses in a wide area around the ministry. Black smoke covered the area as police vehicles and ambulances raced in, sirens blaring.
At least 50 apartments were severely damaged. Windows were shattered, furniture wrecked and several walls blown down. Stores on ground floor levels had their doors blown off. The other four ministries in the same compound were also damaged in the explosion.
The ministry was empty at the time of the strike, 1:20 a.m.
Israel bombed the same building on Thursday, saying it was used to plan terror attacks. The Palestinian foreign minister is Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader.
Israel has been attacking Gaza since June 28, three days after Hamas-linked militants tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli army post at a Gaza crossing, killing two soldiers and capturing a third.
An hour earlier, Israeli aircraft fired at least five missiles at Palestinian militants during battles in northern Gaza early Monday, Palestinian security officials said.
At least two militants were wounded, hospital officials said.
Palestinian security officials said three of the missiles were aimed at militants firing rocket-propelled grenades near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, across from the Israeli town of Sderot, a frequent target of Palestinian rockets.
Another missile was aimed at a Hamas office in the Jebaliya refugee camp, setting it on fire, residents said. No one was hurt. Also, an aircraft fired a missile at a farm building where militants were thought to be hiding. Ambulances were racing to the scene.
The military confirmed that its forces have been firing missiles in northern Gaza but had no further details.
Israeli forces moved back into northern Gaza early Sunday, 10 days after completing a two-day sweep aimed at confronting militants who have been firing rockets at Israel.
Israel said its Gaza offensive was meant to win the soldier's release and to end Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities around Gaza. Two rockets fired during the offensive reached as far as the city of Ashkelon, 7 miles northeast of Gaza.
Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, told Israel's Cabinet on Sunday that he believed Shalit was still alive, according to a participant in the meeting.