Israel pounds Gaza as deadly conflict intensifies
Israel bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes on Friday following a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, intensifying a conflict that has claimed more than 120 lives.
The most intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2014 has been accompanied by an unprecedented outbreak of mob violence between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.
The Israeli army said its overnight operation in Gaza involved fighter jets and tanks hitting a Hamas tunnel network dug under civilian areas.
The bombardment saw huge fireballs turn the night sky orange as explosions rocked the ground. Towers and homes were levelled, AFP correspondents reported, while rockets tore through the skies towards Israel.
Muhammad Najib, a 16-year-old resident of Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, compared the bombing to a video game. “It’s like a horror film,” he said.
Um Raed al-Baghdadi, one of scores of people who fled her home amid the shelling, told AFP that Gazans “who have been in war since childhood… cannot bear it anymore.”
Israeli soldiers massed on the edge of the blockaded territory Friday, and army spokesman Jonathan Conricus took responsibility for an erroneous overnight report that ground forces had entered Gaza.
The conflict has killed 119 Palestinians in Gaza, including 31 children, and wounded more than 830, Gaza’s health minister said.
A woman in her 50s died late Thursday after she fell while seeking shelter from rockets, according to the Sheba Medical Center, bringing the death toll on the Israeli side to nine, including a child and a soldier.
– China, US clash at UN –
The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict as Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a “cessation of hostilities”.
China accused the United States of “ignoring the suffering” of Muslims, after Washington stopped the council from meeting on Friday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel”, and the State Department urged citizens to “reconsider” travel to the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said rocket fire by Hamas against Israel amounted to “terrorist attacks.”
Several international airlines — including KLM, British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa and Iberia — cancelled flights in the face of the aerial onslaught.
There were few signs of the conflict abating. Since Monday, Palestinian militant groups have fired more than 1,800 rockets towards Israel, mostly towards southern cities, but also at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Hundreds have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
Israel has hit roughly 750 sites it described as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders. Air strikes levelled three high-rise buildings.
Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.
The heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza’s collapsed buildings.
Three rockets were also fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel, landing in the Mediterranean Sea, the Israeli army said.
A source close to Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.
– ‘Preventing pogroms’ –
Within Israel, an unprecedented wave of mob violence has seen Arabs and Jews savagely beat each other and attack places of worship.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.
More than 750 people have been arrested this week, including more than 100 overnight, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
In Lod, where an Arab man was shot dead by a Jewish Israeli on Monday, the outside of a synagogue was burnt overnight while 43 people were arrested, Rosenfeld told AFP.
Officers detained Jewish Israelis “walking around looking for trouble” in Netanya and Beersheba, while Arab citizens in other towns attacked police and police stations with stones and petrol bombs, he added.
Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who comprise a fifth of the population, say they were enraged by Israeli police storming the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, where police said Palestinians were attacking officers with stones and fireworks.
In one of the most shocking episodes of the intercommunal violence, a far-right Jewish mob beat a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, leaving him with serious injuries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said police were increasing their use of force, warning of the “option” of deploying soldiers in towns.
“We will not tolerate anarchy,” he said late Thursday.
“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” he said, adding Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.
Israel’s civil aviation authority said it was directing incoming flights to Tel Aviv to circle offshore when rockets are being fired from Gaza, with pilots choosing whether to divert to Ramon airport in the south or wait until runways are checked for ordnance.
Hamas announced it had fired a rocket at Ramon in a bid to stop all air traffic to Israel.