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Israel and Gaza slide towards all out conflict after a day of deadly violence

Some 30 people were killed in one of the most violent days in years

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent, in Ashkelon and Tel Aviv
Wednesday 12 May 2021 00:02 BST
Two Israelis killed after rocket fire from Gaza
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The crisis between Israel and Hamas in Gaza moved towards all out conflict after one of the most violent days in years left some 30 people dead and with both sides vowing to continue hostilities.

Up to 28 Palestinians were killed by airstrikes in Gaza and three people died in Israel following rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.

A day of violence ended with Hamas firing over 130 rockets towards Tel Aviv. The fire was so relentless that Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defence system seemed to be overwhelmed.

A 50-year-old woman was killed in Rishon LeTsiyon, just south of Tel Aviv. Israel’s police spokesperson, Mickey Rosenfeld, told The Independent, the barrage had struck at the “very heart of Israel”.

It came in response to an Israeli airstrike that had earlier flattened a Gaza tower block. Residents had been told to evacuate before the block was hit.

With tensions rising, both sides stood on the precipice of all-out war but both vowed to continue exchanging fire.

Grieving Palestinians said they had little to lose following the latest airstrikes, while Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would “increase the intensity and frequency” of attacks in Gaza.

In a nationally televised speech late Tuesday, he said Hamas and Islamic Jihad “have paid, and will pay, a heavy price”.

Israel also announced it had mobilised 5,000 reserve troops.

Israelis take cover under a bridge in Tel Aviv after rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)

The confrontations led to the UN to call for a de-escalation of tensions with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying he was saddened by “the increasingly large numbers of casualties”.

The surge in deadly violence was triggered by days of unrest in Jerusalem that saw Israeli police storm Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem with stun grenades and tear gas and Palestinians throw rocks, bottles and fireworks at police.

The holy city has been tense during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with sporadic unrest and the possible evictions of Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a court case adding to the friction.

Tuesday began with burials for 26 Palestinians killed in overnight airstrikes.

Gaza’s health ministry said among its dead were 10 children. More than 100 people were also injured. The Israeli military disputed the figures and claimed that at least 16 of the dead were militants.

In Beit Hanoun, a town in northern Gaza, Abdel-Hamid Hamad said his nephew Hussein, 11, was killed on Monday in what residents stated was an Israeli air strike. He told Reuters the boy was collecting wood when he was hit.

“Gaza has had enough, and nothing makes a difference now. Our children are getting killed. What should we do?” Hamad said.

A Palestinian man holds an injured girl awaiting medical care at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city (AFP via Getty Images)

One father who lost two of his children and eight relatives in an airstrike said there had been no warnings before the attacks.

“We didn’t see it coming, we just heard two big explosions,” said Youssif al Massir, in the north of Gaza.

Two of his children, Ibrahim and Marwan were instantly killed .

“Everyone was running in the street, children were bleeding, mothers were crying, blood was everywhere.”

Hamas had warned on Monday of a serious escalation after Israeli forces stormed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, amid a wave of unrest in the contested city, which saw Israeli police deploy tear gas, skunk water and stun grenades against Palestinian protesters who threw rocks and bottles back.

Israel had unleashed the air raids on the tiny blockaded strip after Hamas fired long-range rockets on Monday towards Jerusalem, over 100km away, for the first time since 2014.

Military officials added that Israel had hit “130 targets” in Gaza, including the home of a top Hamas commander.

Rockets were fired by Hamas on the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon on Tuesday afternoon, killing two women, including an Indian domestic worker.

It was reported that the women died after a rocket hit a residential building and two landed in an open area.

A third person was also said to be in a critical condition, and 10 people were said to be injured in total.

Paramedics at the scene confirmed the two fatalities. “We had two direct hits in Ashkelon of two buildings. Due to these direct hits, two people were killed and several more injured,” Uri Shacham, a spokesperson for Magen David Adom, Israel’s national medical and ambulance service told The Independent. “It’s a very hard day for the people of Israel and Ashkelon.”

At the site of the rocket attack a huge hole was seen in one building. Witnesses described how they just had seconds to dive for cover.

Isarelis take cover in Tel Aviv (AFP via Getty Images)

“We dived for the shelter when the rocket hit and after saw a massive hole in the building,” said Oshi Aohnah, a shop owner.

“We ran upstairs and found an old man shouting that his wife was missing. She was buried under part of the building which had collapsed on her.”

More than 700 Palestinians were injured in the 24 hours of violence, including six medics, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

Several Israeli police officers were also wounded.

International attempts at mediation have also begun.

Egypt, Qatar and the UN were trying to stem the violence, a Palestinian official said and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, urged all sides to take steps to reduce tensions.

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