Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City. Picture credits ( AP )
Israeli ground forces bombarded Gaza with artillery on Friday, escalating a conflict that has already brought Israeli airstrikes, Palestinian rocket attacks and sectarian violence on the streets of Israeli cities. As world leaders called for calm and American and Egyptian officials tried to broker an end to the violence, the fighting that began on Monday ratcheted up instead, with dozens killed, most on the Palestinian side.
The Israeli military said that about 1,800 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza, the territory controlled by the militant group Hamas, while the Gaza authorities reported more than 150 strikes from Israeli jets and drones, wounding more than 50 people overnight. “This is the largest focused operation against a focused target that we have conducted so far,” said Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
Hidai Zilberman, another spokesman, said the IDF had deployed as many as 160 aircraft at once in the attack.
Conricus said the target of the attack was a network of tunnels underneath the Palestinian-controlled territory, through which Hamas is known to deploy militants and smuggle weapons. The spokesman described the complex network as a “city beneath a city.”
The IDF clarified that no Israeli troops were actually in Gaza despite earlier reports to the contrary. Instead, the army had amassed troops along the Gazan border and was shelling the territory from Israel. “This operation will continue as long as it takes to restore peace and security to the State of Israel,” PM Benjamin Netanyahu said. Zilberman warned that the operation might intensify, saying that “all options are on the table”.
Hamas launched dozens of rocket volleys overnight at Israeli targets, killing an 87-year-old woman who was running to a safe room.
The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian unrest began Monday after clashes between protesters and the Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Hamas then began firing into Israel with the increasingly potent rockets it has built with the aid of Iran, and Israel responded with air attacks on Hamas in Gaza. At least 122 people have since been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 20 women, and 900 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said. Among eight dead in Israel were a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians — including two children, an elderly woman and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
The Biden administration has called for peaceful resolution, while insisting that the rocket attacks on Israel must stop and refraining from any public criticism of Israel. But the two entrenched sides did not appear ready to cede ground.