Hamas and Israel trade rockets and air strikes as violence spreads

Hamas and Israel trade rockets and air strikes as violence spreads
Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes on a building in Gaza City (Hatem Moussa/AP)

Hamas and Israel have traded more rockets and air strikes as Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel.

The violence has reached deeper into Israel than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Arab and Jewish mobs have rampaged through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars, and flights have been cancelled or diverted away from the country’s main airport.

The escalating fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has echoed – and perhaps even exceeded – their devastating 2014 war.

That conflict and two previous ones were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier.

But this round – which, like the intifada, began in Jerusalem – seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.

Meanwhile, in Gaza residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling air strikes, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air.

Since the rockets began on Monday, Israel has toppled three high-rise buildings that it said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.

In the first sign of possible progress in efforts for a ceasefire, an Egyptian security delegation was in Tel Aviv on Thursday for talks with Israeli officials after meeting Hamas officials in Gaza, two Egyptian intelligence officials said.

Even as word came of their presence, a volley of some 100 rockets from Gaza was fired towards southern and central Israel.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women, with more than 480 people wounded.

Israeli soldiers shoot during the funeral of soldier Omer Tabib, 21, at the cemetery in the northern Israeli town of Elyakim (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed.

Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.

Seven people have been killed in Israel.

Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a six-year-old child hit in a rocket attack.

The fighting comes as Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of a month of daily fasting that 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 sweets to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is no atmosphere for Eid at all”.

Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes on a building in Gaza City (Hatem Moussa/AP)

“It is all air strikes, 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 air strike hit near their home on Wednesday.

The owner of a five-storey building in Gaza City, meanwhile, said he got a call from the Israeli military on Thursday asking him to evacuate it before an air strike brought it down.

“The building is residential, what is in to hit?” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The Israeli military later said the building housed intelligence offices used by Hamas.

Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with non-stop rocket fire into Thursday.

The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) away, for a second straight day.

Palestinians walk along a destroyed road following Israeli air strikes on Gaza City (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Israel has diverted some incoming flights from Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, to the Ramon airfield in the country’s far south, the Transportation Ministry said.

Several flights have also been cancelled.

The Israeli military says more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza.

Israel’s missile defences have intercepted 90% of the rockets.

Israeli air strikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.

Despite ceasefire efforts, both sides were vowing to push ahead.

Israeli television’s Channel 12 reported late on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorised a widening of the offensive.

“It will take more time, but with great firmness … we will achieve our goal – to restore peace to the State of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said during a visit to batteries of the anti-missile defences.

A member of the Sror family inspects the damage at their apartment in Petah Tikva, central Israel, after being hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip (Oded Balilty/AP)

Not long after, air raid sirens rang out in Tel Aviv and around southern and central Israel as the warning system showed dozens of incoming rockets from Gaza.

A spokesman for Hamas’s military wing declared in a video speech that the “decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water”.

Dimona is the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor.

“Our conflict will reach you whenever you turn any aggression against our people.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza towards Israeli population centres, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint”.

US President Joe Biden called Mr 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 to try to calm tensions.

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