As of Sunday, more than 180 Palestinians and eight Israelis have so far been killed in the most severe violence to occur in the region in years. Here’s a look at why it’s happening.
Why is violence flaring up in Israel and Gaza right now?
There were two main triggers that ignited the current crisis.
Protests erupted after attempts were made to evict a number of Palestinians from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Those specific evictions have been paused by Israel’s Supreme Court, but they’re part of a long-term campaign supported by the Israeli government to move Jewish settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in the disputed area of east Jerusalem, which was occupied after the 1967 war and later annexed by Israel in a move that has not been recognized by the international community.
There were also restrictions imposed on Palestinians during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Wednesday. For years, Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians have gathered at the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City to celebrate during Ramadan. This year, Israeli police erected barricades in the area and restricted the number of people permitted to enter.
After a series of protests the barricades were removed, but then Israeli police stormed the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Islam and Judaism, currently managed by an Islamic endowment called the Waqf. Muslims are allowed to pray there, but Jews and Christians are not. The Israeli police said they were responding to Israeli Arabs having gathered stones to use in a later riot. Palestinian witnesses said fighting began after police entered the compound and fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured in the raid. The Israeli police said at least 21 officers were also hurt.
One of the two main Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip, is run by the Hamas group. Considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel to remove its forces from Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa. It then started firing rockets into Israel, prompting the Israeli military to launch airstrikes. Tanks have also since been used by Israel to target tunnels that run between Gaza and Israel, according to the Israeli Defense Force.
More Hundreds of Palestinians have demonstrated in the West Bank, and at least 11 have been shot and killed by Israeli police during clashes there, according to The Associated Press.
Chanting crowds gathered in several Iraqi cities yesterday, some burning Israeli and American flags, in protest against the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Thousands of demonstrators shouted anti-Israeli slogans, held signs saying “Death to Israel, death to America” and waved Palestinian flags. The rallies, called by powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and other paramilitary leaders, were held as Israel launched more air strikes on Gaza and Palestinian fighters fired rockets on Tel Aviv and other cities in the worst escalation in the region since 2014. Sadr, who has millions of followers in Iraq and controls a large paramilitary group, pledged his support to Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Mass public gatherings have been rare in Iraq since security forces and militia groups crushed anti-government protests last year and amid regular curfews to combat the spread of Covid-19. The government had announced a 10-day curfew over the Eid holiday in response to rising coronavirus infections. The curfew was partially lifted the day before the anti-Israel demonstrations. Political leaders aligned to militias joined the call for Iraqis to take to the streets in a rare show of unity by rival factions which are competing for power ahead of a general election slated for October. Sadr and other groups see Israel and the United States as enemies and vehemently oppose the possibility of restoring diplomatic links with Israel as two Gulf states have done.
Days of violence have seen Israeli soldiers massing on the edge of the territory, though the army stressed there has been no ground incursion.
The Israel Defense Forces tweeted earlier Thursday that “air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” and CBS News and other media outlets reported that troops were on the ground. A spokesman for the military later told CBS News that there are currently no ground troops inside the Gaza Strip, but said air and ground troops were carrying out strikes on targets there.
The central city of Lod has seen some of the worst violence. Footage captured on a cellphone shows what the government calls “Jewish extremists” marching through Arab neighborhoods, calling for blood.
“They are moving in our streets they are throwing stones they are shouting at us, they are beating,” said Rana Masimi, an Arab Israeli who teaches English at the local high school.
Shauli Rappaport, who is part of Lod’s Jewish community, says he can’t see a way forward.
The unrest triggered a massive security buildup. Israel’s military said two infantry units and an armored unit were at the Gaza border and plans had been prepared for a potential ground incursion.
An urgent United Nations Security Council meeting requested for Friday was dropped after US resistance to hold a second session in a week. However, it now appears that a meeting will go ahead on Sunday.
President Biden has said Israel has a right to defend itself as Hamas fired off hundreds of rockets at Israel, which responded with airstrikes. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region in hopes of a truce.
Blinken spoke on Wednesday with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction governs the West Bank but has little control in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Blinken “expressed his condolences for the lives lost as a result” of the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a readout of the call provided by the State Department.
Officials from the U.N. and Egypt have said efforts to establish a cease-fire are underway, and an Egyptian delegation arrived Thursday in Israel, but there were few signs of progress yet.
‘We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,’ says news organization’s president
Israeli Airstrikes Hit Building Housing Associated Press A view of the building in Gaza City housing international media after it was bombed. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) camera-icon View 4 more images (Newser) – An Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. AP staffers and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent within an hour. Three heavy missiles struck the 12-story building, collapsing it in a giant cloud of dust. For 15 years, the AP’s top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014. The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. “We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.” The building also housed the offices of Qatari-run Al-Jazeera TV, as well as residential apartments. The Israeli military said Hamas was operating inside the building, a standard explanation, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims. Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current conflict.
Why military response won’t defuse the Israel crisis — or other multiplying threats GETTY IMAGES BY JONATHAN GRANOFF, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill TWEET SHARE EMAIL
The Biden administration wants to reinvigorate alliances and diplomacy to build a more secure world, but there are howling headwinds, including the pandemic, cyberattacks, climate change, and nuclear tensions. Escalating regional conflicts in Israel and Kashmir – both involving nuclear-armed nations motivated by religious and ethnic passions – are the latest reminders that the threat of nuclear war hangs over us, more ominously than ever.
Credible sources report China plans to double its nuclear arsenal. Russia has a massive tactical nuclear stockpile, and is upgrading its strategic arsenal with ultra-powerful nuclear weapons. U.S. Adm. Charles Richard recently warned that Moscow and Beijing have “begun to aggressively challenge international norms” in ways not seen since the height of the Cold War. “There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons,” he said.
Meanwhile, climate change is accelerating. New data shows carbon dioxide at its highest level in 3.6 million years, despite the disruptions of the pandemic. At the April climate summit, U.S. Defense Secretary Austin called climate change an “existential threat” which “is making the world unsafe.”
Unfortunately, that’s no exaggeration. Nuclear weapons and climate change are twin, mutually compounding threats that have spiraled into unprecedented territory and actively threaten humanity’s survival. Each one poses security risks that make the other more of a threat.
Climate change is a byproduct of a mania for economic growth beyond the planet’s limits, which also drives scarcity, social inequity and resource conflict, adding up to a steady, grinding threat to our long-term survival. Nuclear weapons codify adversity as avowed state policy – and pose an acute threat to near-term survival.
Our default approach to security is doubling down on adversity, buying more weapons and projecting more power, building military capacity rather than the resilience and well-being of communities and people.
This year the Biden administration requested a 2021 military budget of $753 billion, an increase of $12.6 billion over last year. That increase is more than the entire 2021 budget for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cost of the nuclear weapons complex over the next 30 years is projected to be around $2 trillion – about as much as the cost of overhauling infrastructure across the U.S.
Other nations are also profligate in their military spending, especially the other nuclear-armed states (Russia, China, UK, France, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and India). The world spent nearly $2 trillion in military outlays last year, but less than $50 billion on the United Nations.
This is the wrong bus to be on.
At this dangerous juncture in history, any coherent approach to defusing spiraling existential threats and promoting security means investing in Human Security.
Human Security focuses on how we live our daily lives. It prioritizes the environment and climate, sustainable development, education, jobs, health, food security, thriving cultures and communities, and the flourishing that comes from upholding freedom of worship and conscience, human rights, and the rule of law. As the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us, these personal needs are also global. Human security defuses threats by working cooperatively toward these goals.
Assembling at a world summit in Rome, Nobel Peace laureates declared that “the promotion of global cooperation is distorted by the possession of nuclear weapons by some… We must ensure the elimination of nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.” They framed three critical interconnected questions that world leaders must answer to achieve security, and urged all of us to press for answers:
As tensions rise in Kashmir, India and Pakistan continue to brandish nuclear weapons at each other while COVID-19 rages, and while a third of the children in both countries suffer malnutrition. For most Indians and Pakistanis, real security depends on personal and family health. For the rest of the world, security depends on lowering tensions between the two governments, for if they escalate enough to trigger a nuclear exchange, it would not only cause unthinkable casualties and suffering among their people, it would throw enough soot into the stratosphere to cripple agriculture worldwide.
Like Kashmir, the crisis in Israel is not amenable to military solutions. Both require a different approach that addresses how people can live their daily lives securely. Military expenditures don’t do that, but the Human Security approach does. Its object is protecting ordinary people and the natural world.
The more the world perfects sophisticated high-tech weaponry, the less secure its people are. State power is not an end in itself, and it is irrational to promote it with weapons that can kill us all. The state is a means to serve human needs, and a construct which now needs reorienting toward that mission.
Today we face many threats which cannot be solved except by international cooperation. To address them, world leaders must work together. The April climate summit was an example of this, but we need a more integral approach cutting across today’s multiple, pressing, intertwined threats. We need a world summit on Human Security.
Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute and representative to the United Nations of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and he is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He has testified as an expert before the U.S. Congress, United Nations, Canadian Parliament and U.K. Parliament. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
A ball of fire erupts from a building housing various international media, including The Associated Press, after an Israeli airstrike on Saturday in Gaza City. AP staffers and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the Israeli military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent. Mahmud Hams/AP In the latest in a series of attacks, an Israeli airstrike Saturday leveled a high-rise building after the military ordered occupants to evacuate. Inside were the offices of several media outlets — including The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera— and residential apartments.
An AP statement said all employees and freelancers safely evacuated the building. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the company is looking to the Israeli government for answers.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” he said. “They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there.
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced via Twitter that Washington has expressed concerns for journalists’ safety to Israeli officials.
There was no immediate explanation for the attack that brought down the 12-story building.
The most recent escalation of conflict began a week ago, with combat and rioting erupting throughout Israel. Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people Friday during Palestinian protests in the West Bank.
This week, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has hit Gaza with aerial and artillery fire. At least 139 people have been killed in Gaza and eight people have been killed in Israel, the AP reports.
Bat Yam, Israel — Religious violence unlike anything seen in decades has spread across Israel. CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab reports that Jewish and Arab neighbors who’ve lived side-by-side for generations have started to turn on each other.
On Wednesday night an Arab-Israeli man was pulled from his car in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam and beaten unconscious by dozens of far-right Jewish Israelis.
“I think this is different from anything I’ve seen, and I’ve been living here for 24 years,” Tel Aviv resident Dahlia Scheindlin told CBS News. “I just want to point out that we’re all Israelis, so Jews, Arabs — we’re all Israelis.”
Violence escalates in Israel-Gaza conflict Images of a horrifyingly similar scene were posted on social media from Acre, in northern Israel, showing a Jewish-Israeli man allegedly being attacked by a group of young Palestinian Arabs.
“We had a nightmare of a night, a real riot by hundreds of Arab youths,” said Avraham Sagron, the rabbi of a nearby synagogue. “They came in masses, torched car after car, trash bins, broke windows and it was really dangerous to leave the house.”
People, homes, businesses and places of worship have all been targeted.
Just a few days ago the violence sweeping across towns and cities with mixed populations of Jews and Arabs was unthinkable, but the fear now across the region is that there may be much more to come.
The nightmare is being felt nowhere more acutely than in the Gaza Strip. The tiny, densely populated Palestinian territory controled by the Hamas group has been pummelled by Israeli airstrikes for four days.
The strikes are wreaking havoc, while Hamas’ military wing and other Palestinian groups continue to fire rockets at Israel. More than 1,000 were let loose on Wednesday night alone.
Israel strikes kill Hamas commanders Since Monday, more than 80 Palestinians have been killed, including 17 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says many of those killed have been Palestinian militants. Seven Israelis have died so far in the tit-for-tat war, including one soldier.
Israel’s military said two infantry units and an armored unit had been sent to the Gaza border, and that plans for a theoretical ground incursion had been prepared and could be submitted to military chiefs for consideration as soon as Thursday. Any such invasion would require approval by Netanyahu’s government, and mark a hugely controversial escalation in the conflict.
But with mounting calls by the U.S. and other countries to step back from the cross-border hostilities, it was the widespread civil unrest inside Israel causing the most immediate concern across the region, stoking fears that the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be headed into new, deeply dangerous territory.
There was, however, merciful calm on Thursday morning at one flashpoint in particular — the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, where this latest round of violence began.
Thousands of Muslims offered Eid prayers there on Thursday, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. There were no reports of violence, but the normally joyous celebration was undeniably on edge.
Threat to air travel
There was yet another worrying sign on Thursday that the tension and the violence could get worse before it gets better. Hamas’ armed wing in Gaza warned that civilian flights in and out of Israel should be halted, because they could be hit by the group’s rockets.
“We call on international airlines to stop their flights to Israel,” a spokesman for the al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement posted to the group’s website. “We tell the enemy that all your airports, and every point from north to south Palestine, are within range of our missiles.”
Streaks of light are seen as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon Streaks of light are seen as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 10, 2021. AMIR COHEN / REUTERS Already Israel’s civil aviation authority had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, the main air hub in Israel, to the secondary airport called Ramon. But the Qassam Brigades claimed it had specifically targeted Ramon airport on Thursday, and there were reports in Israeli media that a rocket did land about 7 miles away.
Spokespeople for United Airlines and American Airlines told French news agency AFP that they’d already cancelled all their flights from the U.S. to Israel at least until Saturday.
Appeals for calm
United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that efforts to establish a cease-fire are underway, and an Egyptian delegation arrived Thursday in Israel, but there have been scant signs of progress yet, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has vowed to widen the offensive.
President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to push for a truce.
Blinken also spoke on Wednesday with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction governs the West Bank but holds little sway in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The top American diplomat “expressed his condolences for the lives lost as a result” of the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a readout of the call provided by the State Department.
“The Secretary condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and bring the current violence to an end. The Secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity,” the readout said.
CBS News’ Pamela Falk reported on Thursday that Israel’s U.N. delegation had asked the rest of the Security Council member states to clearly voice support for the country’s right to defend itself from attack.
Tunisia, China and Norway’s U.N. delegations had requested that the Council hold an open, emergency meeting on the Mideast crisis on Friday, but a source familiar with U.S. policy told Falk that the American delegation would prefer an open meeting next Tuesday to give space for diplomacy at the highest levels.
By late Thursday, the U.S. and other nations agreed to hold an emergency open virtual meeting on Sunday.
The source said the U.S. was working behind the scenes to de-escalate the situation, but wanted “to ensure that Security Council action de-escalates tensions,” and that officials were hoping for a ceasefire.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas sent a heavy barrage of rockets deep into Israel on Thursday as Israel pounded Gaza with more airstrikes and shells and called up 9,000 more reservists who could be used to stage a ground invasion. The 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.
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.
Previous fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including a devastating 2014 war, was largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round seems to be rippling farther and wider than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
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 canceled or diverted away from the country’s main airport.
Weary Palestinians, meanwhile, somberly marked the end of the Muslim 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 rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled three high-rise buildings that it said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.
Youtube video thumbnail Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 87 Palestinians, including 18 children and eight women, with 530 people wounded. Islamic Jihad 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.
Seven people have been killed in Israel. Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child hit in a rocket attack.
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 cease-fire; 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 authorized 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.
It was unclear who was responsible for the rockets fired from southern Lebanon, according to Lebanese security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The rockets were launched from the Qlayleh area north of Naqoura, near the border with Israel.
The Israeli military confirmed that the rockets fell into the Mediterranean. South Lebanon is home to Palestinian militant factions as well as the powerful Shiite Hezbollah group.
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 defense 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 Defense Ministry said Thursday that the latest mobilization approved by Defense Minister Benny Gantz was an “exceptional call-up.”
The military’s chief spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said forces were “preparing the option of a ground maneuver.” He told Israeli public television station Kan that tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery were being readied “for this option for mobilization at any given moment.”
But the level of forces was not believed to be strong enough yet for a possible ground invasion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited batteries of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which the military says has intercepted 90% 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.
The previous evening, Israeli TV reported Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorized a widening of the offensive that the military says has already hit 600 targets in Gaza.
In Gaza, a pall was cast over Eid al-Fitr, the holiday at the end of Ramadan’s month of daily fasting. It is usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.
Instead, Hamas urged the faithful to mark communal 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.”
“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”
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.
In Israel, rocket fire brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) away, for a second straight day.
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 canceled.
Hamas said it fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, toward Ramon, 180 kilometers (110 miles) 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.
“We’re coping, sitting at home, hoping it will be OK,” said Motti Haim, a resident of the central town of Beer Yaakov and father of two children. “It’s not simple running to the shelter. It’s not easy with the kids.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli population centers, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.” U.S. President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region.
The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims.
Israel regards Jerusalem in its entirety as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
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.
Ugly confrontations erupted again late Wednesday. Jewish and Arab mobs battled in the central city of Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, despite a state of emergency and nighttime curfew. In nearby Bat Yam, Jewish nationalists dragged an Arab motorist from his car and beat him until he was motionless.
Israeli police said two people were shot and wounded in Lod and an Israeli Jew was stabbed. An Arab citizen was stabbed and seriously wounded in Jerusalem’s central Mahane Yehuda market.
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.
Still unclear is how the fighting in Gaza will affect Netanyahu’s political future. He failed to form a government coalition after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try to form one.
They have courted a small Islamist Arab party, but the fighting could hamper those efforts.
Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Karin Laub in the West Bank and Ashraf Sweilam in al-Arish, Egypt, contributed.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated overnight, with 35 Palestinians killed in Gaza and three in Israel in the most intensive aerial exchanges for years.
Israel carried out hundreds of air strikes in Gaza into the early hours of Wednesday, as the Islamist group and other Palestinian militant groups fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and Beersheba.
One multi-story residential building in Gaza collapsed and another was heavily damaged after they were repeatedly hit by Israeli air strikes. Israel said it attacked Hamas targets, including intelligence centres and rocket launch sites.
It was the heaviest offensive between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war in Gaza, and prompted international concern that the situation could spiral out of control.
U.N. Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland tweeted: “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation.
“The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now,” he wrote.
Into the early hours of Wednesday morning, Gazans reported their homes shaking and the sky lighting up with Israeli attacks, outgoing rockets and Israeli air defence missiles intercepting them.
Israelis ran for shelters or flattened themselves on pavements in communities more than 70 km (45 miles) up the coast and into southern Israel amid sounds of explosions as interceptor missiles streaked into the sky.
Hamas’s armed wing said it fired 210 rockets towards Beersheba and Tel Aviv in response to the bombing of the tower buildings in Gaza City
In Tel Aviv, air raid sirens were heard around the city. For Israel, the militants’ targeting of Tel Aviv, its commercial capital, posed a new challenge in the confrontation with the Islamist Hamas group, regarded as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States.
The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed – court hearing in a case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from East Jerusalem homes claimed by Jewish settlers.
‘A VERY HEAVY PRICE’
There appeared no imminent end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a “very heavy” price for the rockets, which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday during a holiday in Israel commemorating its capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
The outbreak of hostilities led Netanyahu’s political opponents to suspend negotiations on forming a coalition of right-wing, leftist and centre-left parties to unseat him after an inconclusive March 23 election.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid has three weeks left to establish a government, with a new election – and another chance for Netanyahu to retain power – likely if he fails.
The Arab League, some of whose members have warmed ties with Israel over the last year, accused it of “indiscriminate and irresponsible” attacks in Gaza and said it was responsible for “dangerous escalation” in Jerusalem.
Hamas named its rocket assault “Sword of Jerusalem”, seeking to marginalise Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to present itself as the guardians of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences.”
Haniyeh said that Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations had been in contact urging calm but that Hamas’s message to Israel was: “If they want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready.”
The White House said on Tuesday that Israel had a legitimate right to defend itself from rocket attacks but applied pressure on Israel over the treatment of Palestinians, saying Jerusalem must be a place of coexistence.
The United States was delaying U.N. Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence, according to diplomats and a source familiar with the U.S. strategy.State Department spokesman Ned Price urged calm and “restraint on both sides”, saying: “The loss of life, the loss of Israeli life, the loss of Palestinian life, It’s something that we deeply regret.”
He added: “We are urging this message of de-escalation to see this loss of life come to an end.”
PLUMES OF BLACK SMOKE
Israel said it had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza, and dispatched infantry and armour to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks, in 2014.
More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed by Israeli forces.
Video footage on Tuesday showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from a 13-story Gaza residential and office block as it toppled over after being demolished by Israeli air strikes.
The Israeli military said the building, in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, housed “multiple” Hamas offices, including ones for military research and development and military intelligence.
The existence of one Hamas office, used by political leaders and officials dealing with the news media, was widely known locally.
Residents in the block and the surrounding area had been warned to evacuate the area before the air strike, according to witnesses and the Israeli military.
A second residential and office building in the same neighbourhood was heavily damaged in Israeli attacks shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Residents and journalists working in the building had already left.
On Tuesday Gaza health ministry officials put the death toll at 32, but a Hamas-affiliated radio station later said three more people, including a woman and a child, were killed shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday in an Israeli air strike on an apartment above a restaurant.
Israeli political leaders and the military said they had killed “dozens” of militants, and hit buildings used by Hamas.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel had carried out “hundreds” or strikes, and that “buildings will continue to crumble.”
Gaza’s health ministry said that of the 30 reported dead, 10 were children and one was a woman.
Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said a 50-year-old woman was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion, and that two women had been killed in rocket strikes on Ashkelon.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Nandita Bose and Steve Holland in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Howard Goller)
Iran’s Khamenei urges Palestinians to build up power to stop Israeli ‘brutality’
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Palestinians on Tuesday to build up their fighting power to stop Israel’s “brutality”, saying Israelis “only understand the language of force”, Iran’s state TV reported.
“Zionists understand nothing but the language of force, so the Palestinians must increase their power and resistance to force the criminals to surrender and stop their brutal acts,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Israel intensified its air strikes on Gaza on Tuesday as rocket barrages hit Israeli towns for a second day in a deepening conflict in which at least 28 people in the Palestinian enclave and two in Israel have been killed.