Israel Trades Fire With Gaza as Clashes Spread to West Bank
(Bloomberg) -- Israel pounded Gaza for a fifth day with land and air attacks on Hamas fighters, who returned rocket fire while 10 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces as unrest spread to the West Bank.
Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops in the West Bank, adding to the toll in the eruption of fighting. Israel has struck hundreds of military targets in Gaza, while militants in the impoverished coastal strip have fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel since Monday, Israel’s army said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that an extended campaign was in the offing, despite the worst outbreak of violence in years between Arabs and Jews inside its borders.
“This is not yet over,” Netanyahu said in a statement from his office. “We will do everything to restore security to our cities and our people.”
Meanwhile, the death toll and the damage from the fighting mounted. More than 120 Palestinians in Gaza, including children, and nine Israelis have died, with hundreds of buildings damaged or in ruins. Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived to talk to both sides as part of international peace efforts.
Israel struck more than 150 targets in northern Gaza overnight with heavy aircraft, tank and artillery fire to destroy kilometers of underground tunnels dug by Hamas, the military said. The barrage was intended to send a message that Israel will deal with the supposedly secretive infrastructure, but not necessarily a sign that an invasion is imminent, said Ram Yavne, a retired general in Israel’s army.
“Israel’s considerations to invade or not are much broader than the tunnels,” Yavne said. “Most signs point in the opposite direction because neither the public nor the politicians want a ground war.”
Authorizations have been granted to call up 9,000 additional reservists as Israel considers scenarios including a possible ground incursion. The army said early Friday that no soldiers had been sent to Gaza.
Trouble loomed on other fronts as well. Three rockets were launched from Syria Friday night, none of them causing damage to Israel. A day earlier, three more missiles from Lebanon crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off Israel’s northern coast, raising the specter of a second battleground involving Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
Israel’s military said tanks fired warning shots toward people who briefly crossed the fenced border from Lebanon and lit fires on Friday. The army killed one man who Hezbollah said was one of its fighters.
Thousands of Jordanian protesters gathered near a crossing into Israel on Friday in support off Hamas, burning Israeli flags and calling for the expulsion of Israeli diplomats from Jordan. Others demonstrated in central Amman.
The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the conflict for Sunday. U.S. President Joe Biden has defended the Israeli government’s response to Palestinian rocket barrages, saying he has not seen a “significant overreaction.”
In Gaza, millions of Palestinians attempted to stay out of the line of fire by remaining at home, swapping videos and posts of those killed on social media. The sound of airstrikes, Hamas rocket launches and drone aircraft overhead added to the sense of dread.
“Every bombing we hear, we feel like the moment of death has come,” said Ahlam Abu Taweela, a 43-year-old housewife and mother of five. “We can’t sleep day or night.”
The latest round of fighting is rooted in tension that has festered since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in April.
Israeli restrictions on gathering at a traditional Ramadan meeting place outside Jerusalem’s Old City touched off the unrest. After they were lifted, protests were rekindled by the threatened evictions of Palestinians from longtime homes in the eastern sector of the city that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967. The Palestinians and much of the international community consider East Jerusalem occupied territory.
The conflict has spilled over into communal turmoil inside Israel, where decades of pent-up grievances and nationalism have exploded into rampages by Arabs and Jews. Border police reservists were called up to reinforce police in mixed Arab-Jewish towns, but rampages resumed in multiple areas late Thursday.
Hamas began its rocket salvos as rivals of Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, were trying to form a government to unseat him. As the conflict expanded, and violence between Arabs and Jews spread, a crucial prospective partner pulled out of coalition negotiations Thursday, throwing the indicted premier a lifeline.
(An earlier version of this story corrected the day on which rockets were launched from Lebanon.)
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