GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli artillery shelled northern Gaza early Friday in an attempt to destroy a vast network of militant tunnels inside the territory, the army said, bringing the front lines closer dense civilian areas and paving the way for a potential invasion from the ground.
Israel has massed troops along the border and called in 9,000 reservists after days of fighting with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Palestinian militants fired some 1,800 rockets and the army launched more than 600 airstrikes, knocking down at least three buildings.
The escalating fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab crowds clashing in the city of Lod. The fighting took place despite a reinforced police presence ordered by the country’s leaders.
Masses of red flames lit up the sky as deafening explosions from the outskirts of Gaza City woke people up.
In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli fighter jet reduced the building to rubble, residents said. Sadallah Tanani, a relative, said the family had been “removed from the population register” without warning. “It was a massacre. My feelings are indescribable, ”he said.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds. It was part of a large operation that also involved airstrikes and aimed to destroy the tunnels under Gaza City used by militants to escape surveillance and airstrikes, which the military calls “the metro.”
“As always, the aim is to strike military targets and minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before hitting skyscrapers or tall buildings inside Gaza, it was not possible this time.”
The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for ceasefire talks that showed no signs of progress. Saleh Aruri, a senior Hamas leader in exile, told London satellite channel Al Araby that his group had rejected a proposed three-hour lull. He said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.
Fighting erupted on Monday night when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against policing a holy place and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes. .
Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing terrible explosions across the densely populated territory. Gaza militants fired 1,800 rockets at Israel, including more than 400 that failed or failed, according to the military.
The rockets crippled life in parts of southern Israel and several roadblocks targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, about 70 kilometers from Gaza.
Gaza’s health ministry says the death toll rose to 119, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 injured. Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have confirmed 20 dead in their ranks, although Israel claims the number is much higher. Seven people were killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the operation, saying in a video statement that Israel “will take a very heavy toll on Hamas.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu to quell the fighting, but also backed the Israeli leader by saying that “there had been no significant overreaction.”
He said the goal now was “to get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, especially rocket attacks”. He called this effort a “work in progress”.
Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties during the previous three wars in Gaza, a densely populated area that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. He claims Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.
Hamas has shown no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) into southern Israel. The rocket landed in the middle of the desert but briefly disrupted air traffic at Ramon Airport to the south. Hamas also launched two drones which Israel said it quickly brought down.
Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, which would be a chance to “increase our catches” of dead or captive soldiers.
The fighting has cast a veil over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, normally marked by family reunions and festive meals. Instead, the streets of Gaza were mostly empty.
The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem. A focal point of the clashes was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hill that is worshiped by Jews and Muslims. Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, to be the capital of their future state.
The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed cities across Israel have meanwhile added a new layer of volatility to the conflict not seen for more than two decades.
A Jewish man was seriously injured by gunshot wounds in Lod, the epicenter of the unrest, and Israeli media said a second Jewish man was shot dead. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said around 750 suspects have been arrested since the community violence began earlier this week. He said police clashed overnight with individuals in Lod and Tel Aviv who threw stones and firebombs at them.
The fighting deepened a political crisis that pushed Israel through four inconclusive elections in just two years. After the March elections, Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. Now his political rivals have three weeks to try and do so.
These efforts were considerably complicated by the fighting. Its opponents include a wide range of parties that have little in common. They would need the support of an Arab party, whose leader said it could not negotiate while Israel was fighting in Gaza.
Krauss brought back from Jerusalem.