, Gaza Strip
(AP) — Thousands of Palestinians
grabbed their children
and belongings and fled their homes Friday as Israel
bombarded the northern Gaza Strip with tank fire and airstrikes
, killing a family of six in their home and severely damaging other neighborhoods in what it claimed was an operation to clear militant tunnels.
As international efforts to broker a cease-fire intensified, Israel appeared to be preparing to inflict greater damage on the Islamic militant group Hamas
, which controls the Gaza Strip and has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
The violence in Gaza was increasingly spilling over into other parts of the world.
Palestinians staged their largest protests in the West Bank since 2017, with hundreds burning tires and throwing stones at Israeli troops in at least nine towns. Six Palestinians were killed by soldiers opening fire, according to Palestinian health
officials, and a seventh was killed while attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.
Communal violence erupted for a fourth night in Israel, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod, despite the deployment of additional security forces.
According to the health Ministry, the death toll
in Gaza has risen to 122, including 31 children and 20 women, with 900 injured. Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel claims the figure is much higher. Seven people
have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
On Thursday, Israel called up 9,000 reservists to join its troops massed at the Gaza border
, and an army spokesman hinted at a possible ground assault into the densely populated territory, though he gave no timetable; however, there was no sign of an incursion a day later.
However, tanks stationed along the border and warplanes launched an all-out assault on the northern end of the Gaza Strip before dawn Friday.
Houda Ouda said she and her extended family ran frantically into their Beit Hanoun home for safety as the earth shook for two and a half hours in the dark.
“We didn’t even dare to look out the window to see what was being hit,” she said, and when daylight arrived, she saw the swath of destruction: streets cratered, buildings crushed or with facades blown off, an olive tree burned bare, dust covering everything.
Residents said Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife, and four children aged 7 and under were killed after an Israeli warplane razed their four-story apartment building in the neighboring town of Beit Lahia. Four strikes hit the building at 11 p.m., just before the family went to bed, according to Rafat's brother Fadi. The building's owner and his wife were also killed.
“It was a massacre,” Sadallah Tanani, another relative, said, his emotions indescribable.
An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said the operation included tank fire and airstrikes aimed at destroying a tunnel network beneath GAZA CITY known as "the Metro," which militants use to avoid surveillance and airstrikes.
“As always, the goal is to strike military targets while minimizing collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said, adding that “unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza,” that was not possible this time.
Residents fled the area in pickup trucks, donkeys, and on foot as the sun rose, carrying pillows, blankets, pots and pans, and bread. “We were terrified for our children, who were screaming
and shaking,” said Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a UNRWA spokesman, said thousands of people had broken into the relief agency's 16 schools, which he said was scrambling to find a way to shelter them due to movement restrictions on its staff due to the fighting and COVID-19
Mohammed Ghabayen, who took refuge in a school with his family, said his children had not eaten since the previous day and had no mattresses to sleep
on. “And this is in the shadow of the coronavirus
crisis,” he added.
So far, Hamas has fired approximately 1,800 rockets toward Israel, some of which have been aimed at the seaside city of Tel Aviv, though more than a quarter of them have fallen short inside Gaza and the majority of the rest have been intercepted by missile defense systems.
Nonetheless, the rockets have brought life to a halt in parts of southern Israel and disrupted flights.
According to a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, the group is not afraid of a ground invasion because it would allow them to "increase our catch" of Israeli soldiers.
The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire talks that failed to produce results. Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations
were leading truce efforts.
According to an Egyptian intelligence official familiar with the talks, Israel rejected an Egyptian proposal for a year-long truce with Hamas and other Gaza militants, which would have begun at midnight Thursday if Israel had agreed, but Hamas accepted the proposal.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, stated that Israel wants to postpone a cease-fire to allow more time to destroy Hamas and Islamic Jihad's military capabilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
has promised that Hamas will pay a "very heavy price" for its rocket attacks.
US President Joe Biden
said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting, but he also backed Netanyahu, saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”
The goal now, he says, is to "get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks." He describes the effort as "a work in progress."
For the time being, the fighting has stymied efforts by Netanyahu's political opponents to form a new government coalition, extending his bid to remain in office following inconclusive elections
. His rivals have three weeks to agree on a coalition but require the support of an Arab party, the leader of which has stated that he cannot negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.
Israel has faced international condemnation for civilian casualties in three previous wars in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in danger by erecting military infrastructure
in civilian areas and launching rockets from there.
Late Monday, Hamas launched a long-range rocket at Jerusalem
in support of Palestinian protests against the policing of a flashpoint holy site and Jewish settlers' efforts to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes.
The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed-race cities across Israel have added a new level of turpitude to the conflict that hasn't been seen in more than two decades.
Overnight, a Jewish man was shot and seriously injured in Lod, the epicenter of the trouble, and Israeli media reported that a second Jewish man was shot. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and was hospitalized in critical condition.
According to Micky Rosenfeld, a police
spokesman, 750 people have been arrested since the communal violence began this week.
writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to Krauss' reporting from Jerusalem.