Israel bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes on Friday in response to a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-led enclave, in an intensification of a conflict that has now claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives.
Days of deadly violence have seen Israeli soldiers congregate on the edge of the territory, although the military insisted there had been no ground invasion, despite a previous statement that troops were carrying out an attack “in the Gaza Strip.”
Israeli security forces have also been confused to stem deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, and projectiles have been fired from Lebanon.
Footage released early Friday showed large flames turning the night sky from orange to tightly packed Gaza as missiles passed through the air towards Israel.
Residents of northern Gaza, near the Israeli border, said they had seen no trace of Israeli ground forces in the enclave, but reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of airstrikes.
“I said we would get a very high price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We do that, and we will continue to do so with great violence.”
Israeli military spokesman John Conricus said the country was “prepared … for different scenarios,” describing a ground offensive as “one scenario.”
The UN Security Council will publicly discuss worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States previously objected to a rally on Friday.
“Too many innocent civilians have already died,” tweeted Antonio Guterres. “This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism across the region.”
Out of respect for the spirit of Eid, I advocate an immediate de-escalation and end to hostilities in Gaza and Israel. Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism across the region.
– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) May 13, 2021
The sound of artillery fire and explosions echoed through the northern and eastern parts of Gaza Friday morning. Witnesses said many families living in areas near the border moved to their homes, some sought shelter in schools run by the United Nations.
Violence also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict. Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out in the streets of some cities, prompting the Israeli president to warn of civil war.
At least 109 people have been killed in Gaza, including 29 children, in the past four days, Palestinian medical officials said. On Thursday alone, 52 Palestinians were murdered in the enclave, the highest number of days since Monday.
Seven people died in Israel: a soldier who patrolled the Gaza border, five Israeli civilians, including two children, and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
Concerned that the worst hostilities in the region in years could spiral out of control, the United States sent an envoy, Hady Amr.
Who is Hady Amr?
The ceasefire efforts of Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were yet to provide any sign of progress.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday called for a de-escalation in violence, saying he wanted to see a significant reduction in the number of missile attacks.
After Sunday’s Security Council meeting was announced, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted, “The US will continue to participate actively in top-level diplomacy to try to ease tensions.”
Militants fired missile fires at Tel Aviv and surrounding cities on Thursday, with the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting many of them. Communities near the Gaza border and the southern desert city of Beersheba were also targeted.
Five Israelis were injured on Thursday by a missile that hit a building near Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said Israel has hit a total of nearly 1,000 militant targets in the area.
UN meeting delayed
Diplomats said the United States, a close ally of Israel, objected to a request from China, Norway and Tunisia for a public, virtual meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday to discuss the violence.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that such a meeting next week would be better to set aside time for diplomacy in hopes of achieving a de-escalation.
Standing next to a road to Gaza that was damaged by Israeli air strikes, Assad Karam, 20, a construction worker said: “We face Israel and Covid-19. We are in between two enemies. “
In Tel Aviv, Yishai Levy, an Israeli singer, pointed to shrapnel falling on a sidewalk outside his house.
“I want to say to the Israeli soldiers and the government, don’t stop until you finish the job,” he said on YNet television.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Several international airlines – including KLM, British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa and Iberia – canceled flights amid the air strikes.
To ‘disrupt’ Hamas
Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, the chief spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said attacks on missile production and militant launch sites “disrupted Hamas’ activities,” but still not so much as to stop the barrage.
He said between 80 and 90 militants had died in Israeli attacks. Zilberman said Israel was “building up troops on the Gaza border,” a stake that sparked speculation about a possible ground invasion, a move that would recall similar incursions during the 2014 and 2009 wars between Israel and Gaza.
However, correspondents for Israeli military affairs have said a major ground raid is unlikely, citing high losses as risks.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida responded defiantly to the troop build-up and urged the Palestinians to stand up.
‘Mass as you want, from the sea, the land and the air. We have prepared for your kind of deaths that would make you curse yourself, ”he said.
So far, about 1,750 missiles have been fired at Israel, 300 of which have failed in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said.
The hostilities have fueled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21% Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities. Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars at night.
While unrest in Jerusalem has sparked hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks in their aspirations for an independent state in recent years, including Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On the Israeli political front, Netanyahu’s chances of staying in power after an unclear March 23 election seemed to improve significantly after his main rival, centrist Yair Lapid, suffered a major setback in efforts to form a government.
( Jowharwith REUTERS, AFP and AP)