Israel-Gaza: Rockets pound Israel after militants killed

Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired dozens of rockets at Israel after its air strikes killed top commanders and felled another tower block there.

The escalation, which began on Monday, has triggered street violence in Israel between Jews and Israeli Arabs.

In two incidents, a Jewish man in Acre was attacked by Arab men, and a Jewish mob pulled a Palestinian out of his car and beat him up in Bat Yam.

At least 67 people in Gaza and seven people in Israel have been killed.

The fighting erupted on Monday after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by Muslims and Jews.

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More than 374 people were arrested and 36 officers were injured after clashes in Israeli cities, Israeli police said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking late on Wednesday night, said he planned to send in military forces to help police maintain order in cities ruptured by violence.

Mr Netanyahu said the attacks in recent days amounted to “anarchy”.

“Nothing can justify an Arab mob assaulting Jews, and nothing can justify a Jewish mob assaulting Arabs,” he said in a video statement, as reported by the Times of Israel.
An Israeli firefighter stands near a burning Israeli police car during clashes between Israeli police and members of the country’s Arab minority in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, Israel May 12, 2021.image copyrightReuters
image captionViolent clashes continued in the town of Lod on Wednesday
An Israeli man inspects the car of a man who was attacked and injured by a mob in Bat Yamimage copyrightGetty Images
image captionAn Arab driver was attacked by a mob in the city of Bat Yam on Wednesday

Militant groups in Gaza, run by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, have been firing rockets into Israel since Monday night, and Israel has responded by hitting targets in the territory.

On Thursday morning, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said about 1,500 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israeli cities since hostilities escalated at the start of this week.

The health ministry in Gaza says that more than 400 people have been injured there since the conflict began, in addition to the 67 who have died.

Mr Netanyahu said the government would use all its strength to protect Israel from enemies on the outside and rioters on the inside.

But the Palestinian Authority, which governs in parts of the West Bank, condemned Israel’s “military aggression” in a tweet, saying it was “traumatising an already beleaguered population of two million people”.
What happened on Wednesday?

The militants in Gaza said they had fired 130 rockets into Israel in response to an Israeli aid raid which destroyed the al-Sharouk tower in Gaza City.

The tower, which is the third tall building to be destroyed by air strikes this week, housed al-Aqsa TV, the station run by Hamas.
A Palestinian woman carrying her son evacuates after their tower building was hit by Israeli airstrikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021.image copyrightReuters
image captionThis woman and child were evacuated from a building in Gaza

Israel said it had killed senior Hamas officials in Gaza, and was also targeting missile launching sites. Hamas confirmed a senior commander and “other leaders” had died.

The IDF said on Wednesday that their strikes on Gaza were the largest since the conflict in 2014.

Residents had been warned to evacuate the buildings before fighter jets attacked; however health officials said there were still civilian deaths.

Five members of one family were killed in an air strike on Tuesday, including two young brothers, according to AFP news agency.

“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their 14-year-old cousin, Ibrahim, said, breaking down in tears as he described their death.

The strength and limitations of Hamas’s arsenal

Meanwhile millions of Israelis were in bomb shelters on Wednesday evening, according to the IDF, after sirens warning of rockets sounded across the country.

Anna Ahronheim, the defence and security correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, described spending Tuesday night in a shelter with her five-month-old baby.

“To hear hundreds of interceptions and even to hear rockets fall near us was horrifying,” she told the BBC.

A child killed in the Israeli town of Sderot was named as Ido Avigal, aged six, who was caught in an attack on a block of flats.
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 12, 2021.image copyrightReuters
image captionIsrael’s Iron Dome anti-missile system – seen here over Ashkelon – aims to protect towns and cities from rockets
How has the world responded?

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” by the ongoing violence. The UN Security Council has met to discuss the issue, but has not issued a statement.

In a phone call with Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden offered his support for Israel’s security but stressed the need to restore “a sustainable calm”.

“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” he told reporters at the White House.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said he had sent an envoy to the region to meet both sides.

Russia has called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia).

A Russian foreign ministry statement quoted a Hamas spokesman as saying the movement was ready for a ceasefire if Israel stopped “violent acts” in East Jerusalem and “illegal measures in respect of its native Arab residents”.
Map showing Israel and the Gaza Strip
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What has caused the violence?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem.

The site is revered by both Muslims, who call it the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and Jews, for whom it is known as the Temple Mount. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. Hamas launched rockets when its ultimatum went unheeded.

Palestinian anger had already been stoked by weeks of rising tension in East Jerusalem, inflamed by a series of confrontations with police since the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in mid-April.

What makes Jerusalem so holy?
The Israel-Palestinian conflict explained

Map showing key holy sites in Jerusalem
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It was further fuelled by the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers and Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, known as Jerusalem Day.

The fate of the city, with its deep religious and national significance to both sides, lies at the heart of the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel in effect annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of other countries.

Palestinians claim the eastern half of Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for state of their own.

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