June 15, 2021

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As Israel-Hamas hostilities rage, violence spreads on Israeli streets – CBS News

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Gaza City — Weary Palestinians on Thursday prepared for a somber feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.

The latest outburst of Mideast violence has reached deeper into Israel than any since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Arab and Jewish mobs are rampaging through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars, and flights are being diverted from the country’s main airport.

The last three wars between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round of fighting which, like the intifada, began in Jerusalem, seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.

Israel-Gaza conflict escalates 04:39

Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of a month of daylong fasting, is usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.

But in Gaza, residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air. Since the rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled two high-rise apartment buildings housing Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, urged the faithful to mark communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open, as is traditional.

Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”

“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”

Eid al-Fitr in Gaza under ongoing Israeli airsrtikes
Palestinians perform Eid al-Fitr prayer near ruins of buildings destroyed by ongoing Israeli airsrtikes on Gaza, in Beit Lahia, Gaza on May 13, 2021. Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman told the Reuters news agency. That was reminiscent of Israeli moves during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.

“The Chief of Staff is inspecting those preparations and providing guidance. … We have a division headquarters and three maneuver brigades down in Gaza preparing themselves for that situation and for various contingencies,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Rocket attacks and airstrikes continue

Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about to the north, for a second straight day.

Israel has 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.

The Israeli military says more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza. Israel’s missile defenses have intercepted 90% of the rockets. Israeli airstrikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.

Dozens dead in Israel-Hamas conflict 07:34

The Israeli army shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva early Thursday, apparently sparking a large fire. It said the strike wounded people and caused significant damage.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.

A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday. Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child hit in a rocket attack.

Diplomatic efforts falling short

While United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that cease-fire efforts are underway, there were no signs of progress. Israeli television’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorized a widening of the offensive.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli population centers, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.”

President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to try to calm tensions.

Blinken also spoke on Wednesday with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction governs the West Bank but holds little sway in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The top American diplomat “expressed his condolences for the lives lost as a result” of the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a readout of the call provided by the State Department.

“The Secretary condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and bring the current violence to an end. The Secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity,” the readout said. 

Netanyahu threatens “iron fist”

The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims, where police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who threw chairs and stones at them.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday, setting off days of fighting.

The fighting has set off violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in scenes unseen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians
Israeli police patrol during clashes between Arabs, police and Jews, in the mixed town of Lod, central Israel, May 12, 2021. Heidi Levine/AP

But ugly clashes erupted across the country late Wednesday. Jewish and Arab mobs battled in the central city of Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, despite a state of emergency and nighttime curfew. In nearby Bat Yam, a mob of Jewish nationalists attacked an Arab motorist, dragged him from his car and beat him until he was motionless.

In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said it thwarted a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two people. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspected gunman was killed. No details were immediately available.

Still unclear is how the fighting in Gaza will affect Netanyahu’s political future. He failed to form a government coalition after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try to form one.

His rivals have courted a small Islamist Arab party. But the longer the fighting lasts, the more it could hamper their attempts at forming a coalition.

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