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WORLD | 15-05-2021 12:11

Conflict widens as violence rocks Gaza, Israel and West Bank

West Bank clashes, described as among the most intense since the second intifada that began in 2000, left 11 people dead from Israeli fire, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as overall fatalities from strikes on Gaza rose to 126.

Israel faced a widening conflict on Friday, as deadly violence erupted across the West Bank amid a massive aerial bombardment in Gaza and unprecedented unrest among Arabs and Jews inside the country.

The West Bank clashes, described as among the most intense since the second intifada that began in 2000, left 11 people dead from Israeli fire, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as overall fatalities from strikes on Gaza rose to 126. 

Hamas Islamists and other Palestinian armed groups in the enclave have launched more than 2,000 rockets at Israel since Monday, killing nine people, with air raid sirens wailing across the country throughout the week.

Israel's Army said its overnight assault on Gaza involved fighter jets and tanks hitting a Hamas tunnel network dug under civilian areas. Towers and homes were levelled, while rockets tore through the skies towards Israel.

Gazan families sought shelter at schools and mosques, fearing another barrage.

"All the children are afraid and we are afraid for the children," said Kamal al-Haddad, who fled with his family to a UN-supported school in Gaza City.

The fighting in blockaded Gaza, the worst since a 2014 war, exploded following hostilities in east Jerusalem, the Israeli-annexed part of the city Palestinians claim as their capital.

Hamas vowed revenge after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, igniting a week of conflict unlike any in Israel's recent history. 

And in a possible sign of further escalation, the Army said three rockets were fired at Israel from Syria late Friday. 

Israeli soldiers have massed on Gaza's edge, but the Army's overnight statement that a ground invasion had commenced proved false.

The Gaza death toll includes 31 children, and 950 injured, authorities said, while the Israeli fatalities count one child and one soldier, with 564 injured. 

 

West Bank unrest

Violence on Fridays in the West Bank is a traditional facet of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the latest clashes spread across the territory occupied by Israel since 1967 and were linked to events in Jerusalem and Gaza.   

Thick black smoke from burning tyres billowed from a clash point on a main road leading into central Ramallah, where mainly young Palestinians hurled stones, Molotov cocktails and other projectiles. 

Israeli forces responded with water cannon spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. 

"It would be shameful to remain quiet with what's going on in Gaza," said protester Oday Hassan, 21, his head covered in a keffiyeh, in Al-Birah.

The Health Ministry said more than 150 had been wounded in the West Bank, as it appealed for blood donations.

A Palestinian security source said Friday's fighting was the "most intense" since the second intifada, or uprising.

 

Mediation efforts

The United Nations said the Security Council would meet Sunday to address Gaza.

China accused the US of "ignoring the suffering" of Muslims, after Washington stopped the council from meeting Friday.

US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived in Israel on Friday as part of mediation efforts.

Amr will hold talks both with Israeli officials and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and encourage a "sustainable calm", State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.

Israel has hit roughly 750 sites it described as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders. Several high-rise buildings were flattened.

Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.

"I said we'd deliver heavy blows to Hamas and other terror groups, and we're doing that," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "They're paying and will continue to pay dearly for that. It's not over yet."

The UN said 10,000 Gazans had been forced from their homes by the bombardment and that fuel which provides electricity will run out on Sunday.

In the north, where Israel remains technically at war with neighbouring Lebanon and Syria, tensions were also rising. 

Three rockets were fired late Thursday from southern Lebanon towards Israel, landing in the Mediterranean, the military said. The Army said it "fired warning shots towards a number of rioters who crossed from Lebanon into Israeli territory" on Friday forcing them back into Lebanon. 

Israel's arch-enemy, the pro-Iranian Shiite group Hezbollah, said one of its members, 21-year-old Mohamad Kassem Tahan, was killed by the Israeli shots. 

The rocket launches from southern Syria, where Hezbollah is present, followed Tahan's death, but there was no immediate confirmation of a connection between the events. 

 

'Lynching'

Within Israel, an unprecedented wave of mob violence has seen Arabs and Jews savagely beat each other and attack places of worship. More than 750 people have been arrested this week, police said.

In Lod, where an Arab man was shot dead by a Jewish Israeli on Monday, the outside of a synagogue was burnt overnight, they added.

In one of the most shocking episodes of the intercommunal violence, a far-right Jewish mob beat a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, leaving him with serious injuries.

Arab Israeli have attacked police with petrol bombs and stones in multiple locations. 

Several international airlines cancelled flights amid the Gaza rocket fire, while many incoming flights have been diverted from the main airport near Tel Aviv.

 

 

‘Like a horror movie’

 

by Adel Zaanoun, AFP

Gazan teenager Mohammed Najib said Friday that Israel's bombardment of the coastal enclave and the barrages of rockets unleashed by Palestinian armed groups was like "watching a horror movie."

Najib, 16, has had a frontline view of the battles raging since Monday from his family home in Rimal, a neighbourhood close to the centre of Gaza City.

Fireballs have lit up the night sky over the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as Israel and Palestinian armed groups battle, with tower buildings levelled in Israeli airstrikes. 

One of the targets was the 14-storey Al-Shuruq building, not far from Najib's home.

"It was horrifying" to see it collapse on Wednesday, Najib said. "This crazy bombardment is like an electronic video game, it's like watching a horror movie.”

Najib said he was just "a child" during the last large-scale confrontation between Israel and Gaza's armed groups in 2014. "We used to hide under the staircase when there was bombardment but now... there is no place to hide."

Now, he is even afraid to go to the bathroom in case the bombardment starts. "I'm afraid of dying inside the bathroom," he said.

Since Monday, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza, pounded it with hundreds of mortar rounds and massed troops around the enclave ready for a possible ground offensive.

Palestinian armed groups have launched more than 2,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns from Gaza.

At least 122 people have been killed in the densely-populated coastal enclave, and nine on the Israeli side.

Among those killed in Gaza were several Hamas leaders but the Palestinian Islamist group has remained defiant.

Najib's fears are shared by young and old in Gaza.

"I used to like to stay up at night, but now I hate it," because that is when Israeli airstrikes pound Gaza and Palestinian militants fire rockets, said Dima Tallal, 17. "The last four days I hardly slept, I am terrified like never before.”

Grandmother Umm Jalal 76, said she had lived through many conflicts. But "this is the most violent bombardment ever," she said.

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by Hossam Ezzedine with Adel Zaanoun in Gaza City, AFP

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