Israel stepped up its bombardment of Gaza early Friday as tanks and artillery joined in the airstrikes, an escalation that heightened fears of an all-out invasion.
Days of fighting between Israel and Hamas – the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip – has killed at least 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, and eight Israelis, including a child.
Many fled their homes in the tiny impoverished enclave, home to 2 million Palestinians, as ground forces joined in Israel’s growing response and a wave of Arab-Jewish community unrest swept the country for a other night.
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Israel said it carried out a 40-minute-before-dawn barrage of 160 strikes aimed at destroying a vast network of tunnels used by Hamas, which it and the United States classify as a terrorist organization.
Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel. It launched 1,800 missiles this week, a barrage that injured hundreds of Israelis and sent people fleeing to bomb shelters in Tel Aviv and other cities.
Israel called in 9,000 reservists and massed troops along its border with Gaza. It is in “various stages of preparation for ground operations” this week, according to a military spokesperson.
“They attacked us while on vacation, they attacked our capital, they sent missiles into our city, they paid a heavy price,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, referring to Hamas. “It is not over yet. We will do everything to restore the safety of our city and our citizens.”
There was confusion Thursday evening after the IDF announced that “ground troops” were attacking the area and the media suggested that Israeli soldiers had entered Gaza itself. He later clarified that this was not the case, but the incident highlighted the level of concern internationally that such a development – reminiscent of the war that lasted for several weeks in Gaza in 2014 – could be imminent.
The latest strikes came as Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations pushed for a ceasefire in talks that showed no signs of progress.
Meanwhile, a fourth night of violent unrest erupted in mixed towns across Israel.
Overnight, five Israeli policemen were injured in clashes and 750 people were arrested, according to the country’s police.
The violence saw rival Arab and Jewish mobs beat up and set cars on fire in an explosion of community unrest that led President Reuven Rivlin to warn of a “senseless civil war.”
In Lod, a town near Tel Aviv that has seen some of the worst clashes, a synagogue was badly damaged after “rioters” set fire to its door and a nearby palm tree, according to a police spokeswoman .
Netanyahu demanded that this violence “stop” during a meeting with the city police. “Everyone should condemn it, any form of violence, Arabs against Jews and also Jews against Arabs,” he said.
Meanwhile, five people were killed in the occupied West Bank in clashes in several towns involving Israeli security forces on Friday, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israeli tanks also fired warning shots at protesters who entered Israel from Lebanon, according to the IDF.
As the conflict in Gaza has escalated, Palestinians say there is no escape from violence in this densely populated territory, blocked to the north and east by Israel and to the south by Israel. Egypt.
In addition to the 119 people who were killed, some 830 are injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. All eight Israelis, including an Israel Defense Forces soldier, were killed by Hamas missiles, officials said.
People living along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders sought refuge in temporary shelters in central Gaza City on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
They arrived in vans, on donkeys and on foot to schools run by the United Nations, carrying pillows and pots, blankets and bread. The men dragged large plastic bags and the women carried babies on their shoulders, crowding the classrooms.
Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said in an interview with Reuters on Friday that she was looking at the conflict “very seriously” and warned that it could be incorporated into an ongoing ICC investigation into the Gaza war. in 2014.
It examines whether Israeli forces committed war crimes when they invaded the heavily urbanized enclave.
He is also investigating whether Hamas and other armed factions carried out intentional attacks on civilians with rocket attacks on Israel, as well as torture and killings of Palestinians by the Palestinian security services.
Israel rejects membership in the court and accuses Bensouda’s office of anti-Semitic bias.
President Joe Biden on Thursday called for a de-escalation of the violence and said he expected to have more talks with leaders in the region.
The air strikes and rocket attacks exchanged by Israel and Hamas follow weeks of unrest in Jerusalem that saw clashes between Israeli police, Palestinian worshipers and Israeli nationalists. Another concern was plans to expel Palestinian families from land claimed by Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.
Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem on Monday after days of clashes inside the holy city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel responded with attacks on Gaza.
“We are chasing terrorists,” Lt. Col. Johnathan Conricus, an IDF spokesman, said on Friday.
“We are trying to concentrate our fire and minimize civilian casualties. It’s a complex and difficult operation, ”he said, adding that the military had mapped“ sensitive targets ”such as hospitals. “We try not to hit them,” he added, but “sometimes Hamas uses these facilities on purpose.”
At least one senior Hamas commander was among those killed in the airstrikes, according to the group’s military wing.
Conricus said Israel killed at least 30 “terrorists”.