Palestinians flee as Israel bombards territory from air, sea and land

GAZA – (WARSOOR) – People in Gaza fled their homes carrying crying children and valued possessions as Israeli forces pounded the territory from air, sea and land on Friday.

The escalating conflict triggered violent protests in the occupied West Bank, where seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire, and further violence between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

Hamas praised the clashes between stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, calling on Palestinians to “set the ground ablaze under the feet of the occupation”.

In a significant escalation in the worst bout of fighting between Israel and Hamas for seven years, heavy artillery fire was aimed at what the Israeli military said was a large network of militant tunnels. Dozens of Hamas operatives were killed in the strikes, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said.

There was confusion overnight after the IDF corrected an earlier statement saying that ground troops were “currently attacking in the Gaza Strip”. A second statement clarified that there was no ground invasion, but artillery and tank fire from the border. “Clarification: there are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip. IDF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip,” it said.

Analysts suggested it was a deliberate ploy intended to encourage senior Hamas figures to move into a network of underground tunnels known as “the metro”. Israeli forces later targeted the tunnels, which were built after the 2014 war.

An IDF statement said 160 aircraft had “struck over 150 underground targets in the northern Gaza Strip” overnight. Israel’s forces destroyed “many kilometres” of the tunnels during the attack, it claimed.

A multi-storey building housing a bank affiliated with Hamas was destroyed, and weapons production and naval sites were also hit, it said.

Palestinians living in areas close to the Gaza-Israel border fled their homes in pickup trucks, on donkeys and on foot. Some went to UN-run schools in Gaza City, carrying small children, household essentials and food.

Hedaia Maarouf, who left her home with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children, said: “We were terrified for our children, who were screaming and shaking.”

In northern Gaza, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced a building to rubble, residents said.

The death toll in Gaza rose to over 120, with a sharp increase in the number of people injured in the overnight onslaught, according to the Gaza health ministry. At least 31 children have been killed.

Hospitals that were already struggling to treat patients with Covid received an influx of people with shrapnel wounds and other injuries. Some needed amputations. “All I can do is pray,” said one hospital director.

The UN said more than 200 homes and 24 schools in Gaza had been destroyed or severely damaged in Israeli air raids in the past five days. It also said residents’ access to fresh water could be limited because of power cuts and damage to pipe networks.

Increased power blackouts are expected as fuel supplies run low. Most families already only have power for four or five hours a day, and hospitals are forced to rely on generators.

Hamas and other militant groups continued to fire rockets into Israel, where warning sirens sounded in towns and communities. The Israeli military said it had intercepted at least five drones carrying explosives launched from Gaza since Thursday.

Nine people have been killed in Israel, including a child and a soldier.

The UN security council said it would meet on Sunday to discuss the crisis after Washington stopped the it from meeting on Friday, a move that prompted China to accuse the US of ignoring the suffering of Muslims.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel”, and his department urged citizens to reconsider travel to the country. A spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the rocket fire by Hamas against Israel amounted to “terrorist attacks”.

The Israeli military has drawn up plans for a possible ground operation in Gaza, telling its forces to “prepare for battle”. Thousands of reservists have been called up and leave for all combat units has been cancelled.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a video statement: “I said we would strike Hamas and other terror groups with significant blows, and we are doing so.

“In the last day we have attacked underground targets. Hamas thought it could hide there, but it cannot. Hamas leaders think they can escape from our grasp. They cannot escape. We can reach them everywhere.

“It’s not over yet. We will do everything to restore security to our cities and our citizens.”

There was further intercommunal violence in the town of Lod, where Jews and Arabs have been clashing and attacking each other’s property all week. A synagogue was burned down overnight and 43 people were arrested, according to police.

The Shin Bet security service said it was involved in tackling the violence in Jewish-Arab cities, which it described as “terror for all intents and purposes”.

It said in a statement that it was using its “intelligence-collecting capabilities” to learn about any plans to carry out attacks or engage in violent clashes and “to locate, arrest, investigate and put the perpetrators on trial”.

“We won’t allow violent rioters to impose terror on the streets of Israel, either by Arabs or Jews,” said Shin Bet’s chief, Nadav Argaman.

Political leaders have said the violence between Jews and Arabs inside the country poses a bigger threat than the escalating military conflict with Gaza.

On Israel’s northern border, soldiers fired warning shots at youths who crossed into the country as part of a protest against its military campaign in Gaza. The Lebanese national news agency said one person had died.

The army said about two dozen Palestinian and Lebanese youths had gathered at a border gate between the two countries, and that a few had crossed over. The group sabotaged the fence and started a fire in the area before returning to Lebanese territory, it said.

Source: The Guardian