As the hostilities between Israel and Hamas rage, violence is spreading on the streets of Israel
Gaza city – Tired Palestinians prepared for a gloomy festival on Thursday that marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadanand after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem, communal violence raged across Israel.
The recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East has reached Israel deeper than any other since the Palestinian Intifada or the 2000 insurrection. Arab and Jewish mobs roam the streets, beating people wildly and torching cars, and flights are from the main airport Country diverted.
The last three wars between Israel and the militant Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip have been largely confined to the impoverished and blocked Palestinian territory and the Israeli communities on the border. But this round of struggle, which began like the Intifada in Jerusalem, seems to ripple far and wide and to tear the country apart at the seams.
Eid al-Fitr, the one-month fasting holiday, is usually a festive time when families look for new clothes and gather for large celebrations.
But Gaza residents are preparing for further devastation as militants fire rocket after rocket fire and Israel launches waves of bone-rattling air strikes that raise clouds of smoke. Since the rockets began on Monday, Israel has toppled two skyscrapers that house Hamas facilities after warning civilians of the evacuation.
Hamas, the militant Islamic group that took power from rival Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip in 2007, urged believers to mark common oath prayers in their homes or in the nearest mosques, rather than outside as usual.
Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by handing candy to passers-by after the prayer, but admitted that “there is no atmosphere at all for Eid”.
“It’s all air strikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparation for ground operations,” a military spokesman told Reuters. It was reminiscent of Israeli movements during the Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
“The chief of staff inspects these preparations and gives instructions. … We have a division headquarters and three maneuvering brigades in Gaza preparing for this situation and various eventualities,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
Missile attacks and air strikes continue
Militants from the Gaza Strip bombed Israel with continuous rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also extended to the north of the Tel Aviv area, for example in the north, for a second day in a row.
Israel has started diverting some incoming flights from Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv to Ramon Airport in the far south of the country, the Ministry of Transport said.
According to the Israeli military, more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, of which 400 missed out and landed in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s missile defense intercepted 90% of the missiles. Israeli air strikes hit around 600 targets in the Gaza Strip, the military said.
The Israeli army shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Petah Tikva suburb of Tel Aviv early Thursday, apparently starting a large fire. The strike was said to have injured people and caused significant damage.
The Gaza Ministry of Health said the death toll had risen to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas recognized that a commander in chief and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas recognized.
A total of seven people were killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday. Among them were a soldier who was killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child who was hit in a missile attack.
Diplomatic efforts fail
While officials from the United Nations and Egypt have stated that ceasefire efforts are ongoing, there has been no sign of progress. Israeli television’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet had approved an expansion of the offensive.
United States Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in the Gaza Strip towards Israeli population centers, but urged Israel to show “maximum restraint”.
President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to try to calm tensions.
Blinken also spoke on Wednesday with the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction rules the West Bank but has little influence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The top American diplomat expressed “condolences for the lives lost in the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories,” according to a request from the State Department.
“The secretary condemned the missile attacks and stressed the need to ease tension and end the current violence. The secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve a measure of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity,” it said said in the reading.
Netanyahu threatens “iron fist”
The current outbreak of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where persistent Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threat of displacing dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers sparked protests and police clashes. One focus was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built on a hill that is revered by Jews and Muslims. There, police fired tear gas and drugged grenades at demonstrators who threw chairs and stones at them.
Hamas, which claimed to be defending Jerusalem, launched a rocket fire in the city late Monday, sparking days of fighting.
The fighting has resulted in violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in scenes that have not been seen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was ready to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.
But by late Wednesday there were ugly clashes across the country. Jewish and Arab mobs fought in downtown Lod, the epicenter of the problems, despite the state of emergency and night curfew. In nearby Bat Yam, a crowd of Jewish nationalists attacked an Arab driver, pulled him out of his car, and beat him until he was motionless.
In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said it thwarted a Palestinian gun attack that injured two people. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the alleged shooter had been killed. No details were immediately available.
It is still unclear how the fighting in Gaza will affect Netanyahu’s political future. After inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, he was unable to form a ruling coalition, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try and form one.
His rivals have courted a small Islamist Arab party. But the longer the fighting goes on, the more it may hinder their attempts to form a coalition.