Gazans fled their homes carrying crying children and valuables as Israeli forces shelled the territory by air, sea and land on Friday.
The escalation of the conflict sparked violent protests in the occupied West Bank, where seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire, and further violence between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
Hamas hailed the clashes between young stone throwers and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, calling on the Palestinians to “set the ground under the feet of the occupation on fire.”
In a significant escalation of the worst fight between Israel and Hamas in seven years, heavy artillery fire targeted what the IDF has described as a vast network of militant tunnels. Dozens of Hamas operatives were killed in the strikes, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said.
There was confusion overnight after the IDF corrected an earlier statement saying that ground troops were “currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.” A second statement clarified that there was no ground invasion, but artillery and tank fire from the border. “Clarification: There are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip. The IDF’s air and ground forces are carrying out strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip, ”he said.
Analysts suggested it was a deliberate ploy to encourage senior Hamas officials to move into a network of underground tunnels known as the “subway.” Israeli forces then targeted the tunnels, which were built after the 2014 war.
An IDF statement said 160 planes “hit more than 150 underground targets in the northern Gaza Strip” overnight. Israeli forces destroyed “many kilometers” of tunnels during the attack, she said.
A multi-story building housing a Hamas-affiliated bank was destroyed, and weapons production and naval sites were also affected, he said.
Palestinians living in areas near the Gaza-Israel border fled their homes in vans, on donkeys and on foot. Some went to UN-run schools in Gaza City, carrying young children, household items and food.
Hedaia Maarouf, who left her home with her extended family of 19, including 13 children, said: “We were terrified for our children, who were screaming and trembling.”
In northern Gaza, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli fighter jet reduced a building to rubble, residents said.
The death toll in Gaza has risen to well over 100, with a sharp increase in the number of people injured in the nighttime attack, according to Gaza’s health ministry. At least 27 children have been killed.
Hospitals that were already struggling to treat Covid patients have received an influx of people injured by shrapnel and other injuries. Some needed amputations. “All I can do is pray,” said a hospital director.
The UN has said more than 200 homes and 24 schools in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged in Israeli airstrikes in the past five days. He also said residents’ access to fresh water could be limited due to power cuts and damage to pipe networks.
Power cuts are expected to increase due to lack of fuel. Most families are already powered for only four or five hours a day, and hospitals are forced to rely on generators.
Hamas and other militant groups continued to fire rockets at Israel, where warning sirens sounded in towns and communities. The IDF said it had intercepted at least five drones carrying explosives launched from Gaza since Thursday.
Nine people were killed in Israel, including a child and a soldier.
The UN security council said it would meet on Sunday to discuss the crisis after Washington halted the meeting on Friday, a move that prompted China to accuse the United States of ignoring the suffering of Muslims .
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned about violence on the streets of Israel,” and his department urged citizens to reconsider their trips to the country. A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel constituted “terrorist attacks”.
The IDF has drawn up plans for a possible ground operation in Gaza, telling its forces to “prepare for combat.” Thousands of reservists were called in and departures for all combat units were canceled.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement: “I said we would hit Hamas and other terrorist groups with heavy blows, and we are doing it.
“On the last day, we attacked underground targets. Hamas thought it could hide there, but it cannot. Hamas leaders believe they can escape our grip. They can’t escape. We can reach them everywhere.
” It’s not over yet. We will do everything to restore the security of our cities and our citizens. “
There was new inter-communal violence in the town of Lod, where Jews and Arabs clashed and attacked each other’s property all week. A synagogue was set on fire overnight and 43 people were arrested, police said.
The Shin Bet security service said it was involved in tackling violence in Judeo-Arab towns, which it called “terror for all intents and purposes.”
He said in a statement that he was using his “intelligence gathering capabilities” to inquire about any plans to carry out attacks or engage in violent clashes and “to locate, arrest, investigate and bring to light. justice the authors ”.
“We will not allow violent rioters to impose terror on the streets of Israel, whether by Arabs or Jews,” Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said.
Political leaders said violence between Jews and Arabs inside the country posed a greater threat than the escalation of the military conflict with Gaza.
On Israel’s northern border, soldiers fired warning shots at young people who entered the country as part of a protest against its military campaign in Gaza. The Lebanese national news agency said one person had died.
The military said about two dozen Palestinian and Lebanese youth gathered at a border gate between the two countries, and a few had crossed over. The group sabotaged the fence and started a fire in the area before returning to Lebanese territory, he said.