Israel has bombarded Gaza with artillery and airstrikes in response to a barrage of retaliatory rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, in an intensification of a conflict that has now claimed more than 120 Palestinian lives.
On Friday, Israel troops pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes as it targeted Palestinian tunnels.
#UPDATE Germany on Friday said rockets fired by Hamas at Israel amounted to "terrorist attacks" and condemned "anti-Semitic" demonstrations on its own soil as the conflict intensified in the Middle Easthttps://t.co/q5GUv9gcns pic.twitter.com/Qb2yC65yzk— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 14, 2021
The 40-minute, pre-dawn offensive killed 13 Palestinians, including a mother and her three children whose bodies were pulled from the rubble of their home, health officials in Gaza said.
The Israeli operation included 160 aircraft as well as tanks and artillery firing from outside the Gaza Strip, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.
Days of deadly violence have seen Israeli soldiers massing on the edge of the territory, although the army stressed there had been no ground incursion despite an earlier statement that troops were carrying out an attack “in the Gaza Strip”.
Israeli security forces have also been scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, and projectiles have been fired from Lebanon.
Smoke and flames rise during Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza, May 12. PHOTO: REUTERS
Images showed large balls of flame turning the night sky orange in densely packed Gaza, while rockets were seen tracing through the air towards Israel.
The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict as the world body's Secretary-General called for “an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities”. “Too many innocent civilians have already died,” Antonio Guterres tweeted.
“This conflict can only increase radicalisation and extremism in the whole region.”
Out of respect for the spirit of Eid, I appeal for an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel. Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) May 13, 2021
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 Israel”.
Several international airlines — including KLM, British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa and Iberia — cancelled flights amid the aerial onslaught.
Dozens of rockets were fired in retaliation from Gaza towards the southern Israeli coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, and in the vicinity of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.
Israeli army spokesperson John Conricus said the country was “prepared ... for various scenarios”, describing a ground offensive as “one scenario”.
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In Gaza, AFP photographers said people were evacuating their homes in the northeastern part of the enclave ahead of possible Israeli attacks, with Hamas warning of a “heavy response” to any ground incursion.
The Israeli army clarified early Friday that its troops had not entered the Gaza Strip as it had earlier indicated, blaming an “internal communication” problem for the confusion.
With the conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which mostly Arabs have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.
Rockets are launched by Palestinians into Israel, in Gaza May 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
The heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eidul Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza's collapsed buildings.
Israel's air force launched multiple airstrikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, with the air force saying jets had struck a “military compound” of the group's “intelligence headquarters”.
At least 122 people have since been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 20 women, and 900 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.
Among eight dead in Israel was a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians – including two children, an elderly woman and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
The Israeli military said it had hit targets in Gaza more than 600 times while 1,750 rockets were fired from the enclave.
Hundreds of rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.
Three rockets were also fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel, landing in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel's army said.
A source close to Hezbollah said the Lebanese group had no link to the incident.
The military escalation was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
A Palestinian man runs for cover during an Israeli air strike near the ruins of a tower building which was destroyed in earlier strikes, in Gaza City, May 13. PHOTO: REUTERS
The disturbances, in which Israeli riot police had repeatedly targeted Palestinians, have been driven by anger over the looming forced evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.
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The surging tensions sparked clashes in many of Israel's mixed towns where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up about 20 per cent of the country's population.
Nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and more than 400 people were arrested.
Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said inter-communal violence in multiple towns was at a level not seen for decades, and that police were “literally preventing pogroms”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said police were increasing their use of force, warning of the “option” of deploying soldiers in towns.
Israeli far-right groups have clashed with security forces and Arab Israelis, with television footage on Wednesday showing a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, leaving him with serious injuries.
In Lod, which has become a flashpoint of Arab-Jewish clashes this week with an Arab resident shot dead and a synagogue torched, a gunman opened fire on Thursday at a group of Jews, wounding one. Netanyahu said the violence was “unacceptable”.
“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”.
Amid the rocket fire, Israel's civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south.
Hamas announced it had also fired a rocket at Ramon in a bid to stop air traffic to Israel.