Palestinian death toll crosses 100 as Israel pounds shells on Gaza
Hamas strengthens rocket attacks on Israel, three rockets fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel
Israel pounded Gaza with more airstrikes and shells on Thursday as Palestinian officials said more than 100 Palestinians in the Gaza strip, including 27 children, have been killed over the last four days.
Israel government called up 9,000 more reservists who could be used to stage a ground invasion and hostilities intensified despite mediation efforts by Egyptian negotiators who held in-person talks with both sides.
In another potential escalation, at least three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel, an attack that threatened to open a new front in the fighting.
According to the health ministry in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, 103 people were killed, including 27 children and 11 women, while 580 people have wounded since Monday.
Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home.
Late in the day, dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza at Ashdod and Ashkelon, coastal southern Israeli cities, as well as in the vicinity of the Ben Gurion airport in central Israel.
Lebanese military source said three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel. Israel’s army said the rockets landed in the sea.
Lebanese military and security sources said the rockets were launched from near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh. A source close to Hezbollah said the Lebanese group had no link to the incident.
Israel’s army said in a statement: “A short while ago, three rockets were fired from Lebanon into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the Galilee.”
The artillery and tank shells that began falling into Gaza in the evening forced scores of families to flee their homes, Palestinian witnesses said. The use of artillery fire in Israel’s four-day-old offensive raised the likelihood of civilian casualties.
While some rocket attacks have reached the Tel Aviv area, Arab and Jewish mobs have rampaged through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars. Flights have been cancelled or diverted away from the country’s main airport.
Weary Palestinians, meanwhile, somberly marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday as militants fired one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carried out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes. Since the attacks began on Monday, Israel has toppled three high-rise buildings that it said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.
The Islamic Jihad group confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas has acknowledged 13 of its militants killed, including a senior commander. Israel says the number of militants dead is much higher.
Many world leaders have condemned the violence and urged restraint, and a visit by Egyptian security officials was a significant development in international efforts to bring about a ceasefire; such efforts have been key to ending past rounds of fighting. The officials met first with Hamas leaders in Gaza before holding talks with the Israelis in Tel Aviv, two Egyptian intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press.
Still, both Israel and Hamas seemed determined to press ahead.
Even as word came of the mediators’ presence, Gaza militants fired a volley of some 100 rockets nearly simultaneously, raising air raid sirens around southern and central Israel.
There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties — but the barrage appeared aimed at demonstrating that Hamas’ arsenal was still full even after three nights of airstrikes and the killing Wednesday of several Hamas leaders involved in the rocket program.
“The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water,” a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing declared in a video message. Dimona is the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor.
The evening shelling occurred in northern communities near the Israeli frontier and in eastern Gaza City. Resident Ibrahim Jamal said about 200 people sought shelter in a United Nations school.
In another sign fighting could escalate further, Israel’s defence minister approved the mobilization of 9,000 more reservist troops, and Israel’s military spokesman said forces were massing on the border with the Gaza Strip.
The Defence Ministry said that the latest mobilization approved by Defence Minister Benny Gantz was an “exceptional call-up".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited batteries of the Iron Dome missile defence system, which the military says has intercepted 90 per cent of the 1,200 rockets that have reached Israel from Gaza so far.
“It will take more time, but ... we will achieve our goal — to restore peace to the State of Israel,” he said.
In Gaza, a pall was cast over Eid Al Fitr as Hamas urged the faithful to mark Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open, as is traditional.
Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”
In Gaza’s southern town of Khan Younis, dozens of mourners marched through the streets carrying the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old killed when an Israeli airstrike hit near their home Wednesday.
Israel diverted some incoming flights from Ben Gurion International Airport, near the city, to the Ramon airfield in the country’s far south, the Transportation Ministry said. Several flights have also been cancelled.
Hamas said it fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, toward Ramon, 180 kilometres from Gaza. The rocket landed in a desert area, and no air raid sirens sounded, Israeli media reported. Still, flights were briefly suspended at the airport, with several planes left circling before landings and takeoffs were resumed, according to tracking websites.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli population centres, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.”
The recent fighting has also set off violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in scenes unseen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.
In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said it intervened in a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two people. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspected gunman was killed.
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