SDEROT (Israel): Israel deployed additional troops to Gaza’s border Thursday as the military conflict with Palestinian Islamists raged on, while inside Israel security forces scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs.
Army tanks shelled the Palestinian enclave and reporters saw troops assembling at the security barrier. But the armed forces maintained a ground offensive was not the primary focus of the three-day-old operation against Palestinian militants.
“We are prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told the Media, describing a ground offensive as “one scenario”.
With the Gaza conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which both Arabs and Jews have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.
Despite global alarm and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate Gaza hostilities, which US President Joe Biden said he hoped would end “sooner than later”, hundreds of rockets again tore through the skies overnight and Thursday.
The fourth day of heavy bombardments coincided with the start of the Muslim Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramazan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza’s collapsed buildings.
Israel’s air force launched multiple air strikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.
In Gaza, 83 people were reported killed since Monday — including 17 children — and more than 480 people wounded as heavy bombardment has rocked the crowded coastal enclave and brought down entire tower blocks.
Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home.
The Israeli military said it had hit Gaza targets more than 600 times, while Hamas had fired over 1,600 rockets towards Israel.
‘Preventing pogroms’ –
The military escalation was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
The disturbances, in which riot police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.
The surging tensions sparked clashes in many of Israel’s mixed towns where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.
Nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and over 400 people were arrested.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told that inter-communal violence was at a nadir not seen for decades and that police were “literally preventing pogroms”.
Hundreds were protesting in the Arab town of Kafr Kassem in central Israel, burning tires and torching police vehicles, he said.
On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis.
Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa.
Israeli television Wednesday aired footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab until he lay unconscious on his back in a street in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. He was left with serious injuries.
Joanna Sassin, 45, surveyed the shattered glass outside her family’s ice cream shop in Bat Yam, as she recalled the store being targeted by anti-Arab violence two decades ago.
She had hoped such hostility was confined to history but said, “sadly, I was mistaken”.
A state of emergency has been declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where an Arab resident was shot dead and a synagogue has been torched.
‘Two-front battle’ –
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “what has been happening these last few days in Israeli towns is unacceptable.
“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” he said, adding that Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.
The UN Security Council has held two closed-door video-conferences since Monday, with close Israeli ally Washington opposing adoption of a joint declaration, arguing it would not “help de-escalate” the situation.
Netanyahu spoke late Wednesday with Biden, who said that “Israel has a right to defend itself”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, urging an end to the rocket attacks by Islamist groups, and that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions.
Violence also again rocked the occupied West Bank, where a Palestinian man was killed during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers near Nablus, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Amid the rocket fire, Israel’s civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south.
Hamas announced it had also fired a rocket at Ramon, in a bid to stop all air traffic to Israel.
Israeli media reported that the rocket missed its target, but a number of international airlines cancelled flights to the Jewish state amid the aerial onslaught.
Netanyahu visited a battery of the Iron Dome air defence system in central Israel on Thursday, saying “it will take time… but we will restore calm” to the country.
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