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December 21, 2014

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Israel destroys 2 Gaza high-rises in escalation

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AP Photo/Adel Hana

Palestinians, who are neighbors of a house belonging to Abu Hamada family, inspect the damage to their houses, after an Israeli strike in Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. Fifteen people were wounded in an airstrike on houses in Jebaliya refugee camp, according toGaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing one building and severely damaging the other in a further escalation in seven weeks of cross-border fighting with Hamas.

In the past, the military has hit targets in high-rises in pinpoint strikes, but left the buildings standing. Since Saturday, it has toppled or destroyed five towers and shopping complexes in an apparent new tactic aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas.

Tuesday's strikes leveled the 15-story Basha Tower with apartments and offices and severely damaged the Italian Complex, built in the 1990s by an Italian businessman, with dozens of shops and offices.

Both buildings were evacuated after receiving warnings of impending strikes. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said 25 people were wounded in the attack on the Italian Complex.

The Israeli military said it targeted sites linked to militants Tuesday, but made no specific reference to the two buildings. Israel alleges Hamas often operates from civilian locations. The military has not said why it has begun collapsing large buildings, rather than carrying out pinpointed strikes against suspected militant targets located there.

Also Tuesday, two people were killed in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City, police said.

Israel's military said it carried out 15 air strikes in Gaza on Tuesday.

It said eight rockets were launched from the coastal strip at Israeli territory, including one that cause extensive damage to a home in the southern city of Ashkelon and lightly injured more than a dozen people there.

The latest strikes came as Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to resume indirect talks on a permanent cease-fire, based on an Egyptian proposal for a new border deal for blockaded Gaza.

The Egyptian offer calls for a gradual easing of restrictions on trade and movement in and out of Gaza and would give Hamas' Palestinian rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, a foothold in Gaza.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the blockade that has been enforced to varying degrees since then.

Israel and Hamas have not responded to Egypt's latest call.

Gaza's war has so far killed at least 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials. The U.N. estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers.

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