Netanyahu warns Israel is fighting war on ‘two fronts’ as mob violence continues and Gaza conflict rages

Israeli leader says trouble in Israel as big a threat as military campaign with Hamas

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent, in Jerusalem
Friday 14 May 2021 03:46
Gazans pick through rubble of destroyed building.mp4

Israel is fighting a war “on two fronts” Benjamin Netanyahu has warned, amid fears a wave of street battles between Arab and Jewish citizens across the country could pose a greater threat than the escalating conflict with Gaza.

The surge in violence across several cities came amid reports the Israeli military was preparing for a possible ground invasion of the blockaded strip, and was massing troops at the border

Hundreds of rockets fired by Palestinian militants continued to rain down on Israel that launched a slew of new airstrikes on Thursday seeing the death toll in Gaza surpass 100 killed, including 27 children. 

Seven people in Israel are believed to have lost their lives in the military action which started four days ago. In a fresh development, rockets were fired into Israel from bordering southern Lebanon, but there were no reports of casualties.

But despite the ongoing escalation, Israel’s prime minister spoke of possibly deploying soldiers to the mixed Arab-Jewish cities that were gripped by clashes, beatings, shootings and stabbings. 

Speaking to reporters on Thursday , Mr Netanyahu said: “We have no bigger threat now than these pogroms and we have no choice but to restore law and order via determined use of force.”

Horrific images of near-lynchings and inter-community violence between Arabs and Palestinians have rocked the country as chaos raged through multiple cities across the country in recent days as the military conflict unfolded.

Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin even raised the prospect of civil war and appealed to all sides to “please stop this madness”.

Footage of a near lynching of a presumed Arab man by a crowd of Israelis in Bat Mat, near Tel Aviv, sparked global outcry when it was broadcast live on air by several channels.

In the footage, crowds continuing stamping on his blood soaked body as he lay motionless on the ground.

Israeli police told The Independent that they were investigating the incident and that the man was still alive.

Meanwhile in the city of Acre, in northern Israel, Israeli media said that a Jewish citizen in his 30s was left in a critical condition after being attacked by a mob of Arab demonstrators armed with sticks and rocks.

There were numerous other reports of violence including a Palestinian man who was stabbed beside a Jerusalem marketplace.

In the restive town of Lod, some 30km (18.5 miles) north of Gaza, The Independent witnessed fierce clashes between citizens, with the police firing stun grenades and tear gas while rocket sirens blared in the background.

An Arab citizen was shot dead there on Monday and on Wednesday there were reports of a Jewish resident also being shot. 

The Israeli police force said some 400 people had been arrested.

Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesperson, told The Independent over 500 border police guards had been deployed to the city of Lod alone, where shootings took place on Thursday evening and a curfew had been imposed.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is trying to form a coalition government, accused the Israeli prime minister of leading the country “to anarchy”.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, a Hebrew spokesman for the army, told media that the details are being drawn up by Gaza Division and Southern Command ready to be presented to Israel’s political leadership for sign off, the first step in a land invasion of Gaza.

A fire ball engulfs the Al-Walid building in Gaza City

Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an English language spokesperson, would not comment on whether a ground invasion would be imminent when asked by The Independent but said that additional troops, including infantry and armoured brigades, had been moved to areas on the Gaza border.

He said this was battle procedure for “preparing themselves for ground operations”. In another sign fighting could escalate further, Israel approved the mobilisation of 9,000 more reservist troops.

The international community has expressed dismay at the eruption of violence, and the United Nations has warned that Israel and Gaza were on the verge of an “all-out war”.

The US has sent a senior diplomat to the region and President Joe Biden held a phone call with Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday night.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK is demanding Hamas stops its rocket attacks as he said de-escalation is the “only way” to stop casualties and deaths in the region.

“The simple truth is that the only way they can minimise civilian casualties is for the weapons to stop,” he told BBC Breakfast. “That’s why we demand Hamas to stop flying the rockets and we are encouraging a de-escalation so that Israel does not feel the need to make military strikes into Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with Israeli border police in the central city of Lod

Over 1,600 rockets have rained down on Israel, according to the army which said it had struck more than 600 “targets” in the blockaded enclave including rocket manufacturing and storage facilities as well as several multi-story residential buildings, drawing criticism from rights groups.

Col Conricus said the high-rise blocks, one of which is believed to house Palestinian media organisations, were “legitimate military targets”.

But Human Rights Watch said it might constitute collective punishment against innocent civilians, as they questioned the military purpose in “destroying the homes of hundreds of civilians and the livelihoods of people who run or who work in small businesses located in these buildings”.

Israel has also begun diverting some incoming flights from Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, to the Ramon airfield in the country’s far south, the Transportation Ministry said. Several flights have also been cancelled in recent days.

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