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Israel pounds Gaza as conflict intensifies, stops short of ground operation

Rockets launched towards Israel from the northern Gaza Strip and response from the Israeli missile defense system known as the Iron Dome leave streaks through the sky on May 13, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Israel bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes on Friday in response to a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, but stopped short of a ground offensive in the conflict that has now claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives.

As the violence intensified, Israel said it was carrying out an attack “in the Gaza Strip” although it later clarified there were no boots on the ground.

Israeli security forces have also been scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, and projectiles have been fired on Israel from Lebanon.

The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict, while the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel”.

Watch | Israel-Palestine conflict: What is happening in Jerusalem?
 

“We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,” Mr. Blinken said.

The Israeli army clarified early on Friday that its troops had not entered the Gaza Strip as it had earlier stated, blaming an “internal communication” problem for the confusion.

There were intense artillery exchanges on Thursday night, and AFP reporters saw Israeli troops assembling at the security barrier.

Balls of flames rose high into the sky after strikes smashed into densely packed Gaza.

Dozens of rockets were fired 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 spokesman John Conricus said the country was “prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios”, describing a ground offensive as “one scenario”.

In Gaza, AFP photographers said people were evacuating their homes in the northeastern part of the enclave ahead of possible Israeli attacks, with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, warning of a “heavy response” to a possible ground incursion.

‘Massive reinforcement’

With the conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which both Arabs and Jews have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.

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.

Israel’s air force launched multiple air strikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, with the air force saying jets had struck a “military compound” of the group’s “intelligence headquarters”.

At least 103 people have been killed since Monday, including 27 children, and more than 580 wounded, the health ministry in Gaza said.

Heavy bombardments have brought down entire tower blocks.

Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home.

‘Preventing pogroms’

The Israeli military said earlier 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 Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite 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.

The disturbances, in which riot police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.

The surging tensions sparked clashes in many of Israel’s mixed towns where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up about 20% 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”.

‘Two-front battle’

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 airing footage of 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.

Mr. 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 all air traffic to Israel.

Israeli media said the rocket missed its target, but a number of international airlines cancelled flights amid the aerial onslaught.


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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 9:31:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/israel-pounds-gaza-as-conflict-intensifies-stops-short-of-ground-operation/article34554167.ece

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