TEL AVIV – Israeli ground forces joined in the bombing of Gaza on Friday, marking a major escalation in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants as they headed for all-out war.
Friday’s artillery and aerial bombardment included “apparently the heaviest attacks to date,” The Associated Press reported of Gaza, adding that Israel was calling in 9,000 reservists before a possible ground invasion of Hamas-ruled territory.
The latest attacks were preceded by Palestinian militants firing more rockets at Israel as the Israel Defense Forces continued their campaign of airstrikes and artillery. On Thursday, several rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel crashed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea.
President Joe Biden called for a de-escalation of the violence and said he expected to have more talks with leaders in the region, as tired Palestinians darkly mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with Muted celebrations of Eid al-Fitr.
The military build-up and increased shelling came after violence raged through the streets of Israel this week, with rival Arab and Jewish mobs beating and torching cars in a wave of community unrest.
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As the conflict escalated and the death toll rose to more than 100, political leaders called for an end to “lawlessness” on the streets of mixed-ethnic towns in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to restore order “with an iron fist if necessary” on Thursday. “I don’t care if your blood is boiling. You cannot take the law into your hands,” he said.
At least 103 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed as the IDF and militant group Hamas continue to exchange barrages of airstrikes and rocket attacks, officials on both sides said.
Those killed in the Israeli bombing included 18 Palestinian children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli officials reported that a child was among their dead.
Israel says it has targeted sites linked to Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and that it was trying to minimize civilian casualties. He has knocked down three high-rise buildings since Monday that he said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.
At least one senior Hamas commander was among the dead, according to the group’s military wing.
Israel prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparation for ground operations,” according to a military spokesperson. No invasion of Gaza by ground troops has yet been announced.
Meanwhile, the tensions and clashes that first erupted weeks ago in Jerusalem swept Israel in a wave of fury as the conflict in Gaza escalated. Dozens of people have been arrested in towns across the country where clashes and riots have broken out.
In Lod, near Tel Aviv, groups of Jews and Arabs ignored a nighttime curfew and fought in the streets, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
Two people were shot dead and an Israeli Jew was stabbed there, police said.
In nearby Bat Yam, an Israeli mob pulled an Arab motorist from his car and attacked him, leaving him in serious condition.
Domestic violence has been among the worst since the Palestinian Intifada of 2000.
In a video address to the nation on Thursday, Defense Chief Benny Gantz – who is also the head of a party opposed to Netanyahu – called for unity and said internal conflicts “are no less dangerous than Hamas rockets “.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also urged against a “senseless civil war”, with international figures warning that the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza risks escalating into all-out conflict.
Many world leaders have also condemned the violence, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to show “the utmost restraint” while criticizing the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” at Israeli population centers. .
Rocket attacks and airstrikes followed unrest in Jerusalem, sparked by clashes between Israeli police, Palestinian worshipers and nationalist Israelis – as well as plans to evict Palestinian families from land claimed by Jewish settlers .
As of Thursday afternoon, the number of rockets fired by Hamas was more than 1,700, the IDF said.
Inbound flights to Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international hub, were diverted Thursday as rocket fire again set off emergency sirens in the country’s largest city.
The flights were diverted to Ramon International Airport, which is in southern Israel and over 160 km from Gaza, which is blocked by Israel and Egypt.
Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization, said Thursday it had also shot Ramon. Several international airlines have canceled their flights.
Alexander Smith reported from London and Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari reported from Tel Aviv.
Lawahez Jabari and Tim fitzsimons contributed.