TEL AVIV — President Joe Biden called for a de-escalation of violence in the Middle East as the conflict in Gaza intensified Thursday, telling reporters at the White House that he wanted to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.
Biden said he expected to have more talks with leaders in the region, as four days of cross-border violence showed no sign of abating and weary Palestinians somberly marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with muted Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland Thursday and Israel’s military said others had been shot “from Lebanese territory.” Meanwhile. Israel kept up a bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip and massed tanks and troops on the border with the tiny, impoverished enclave, home to 2 million Palestinians.
The military buildup came after violence raged on the streets of Israel late Wednesday, with rival Arab and Jewish mobs carrying out beatings and torching cars in a wave of communal unrest.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
As the conflict intensified and the death toll grew to more than 90, political leaders urged an end to the “anarchy” on the streets of Israel’s mixed-ethnicity towns.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to restore order “with an iron fist if necessary” Thursday. “It doesn’t matter to me that your blood is boiling. You can’t take the law in your hands,” he said.
At least 87 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed as the Israeli military and the militant group Hamas continue to exchange barrages of airstrikes and rocket attacks, officials on either side said.
Those killed in the Israeli bombardment included 17 Palestinian children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel says it has been targeting sites related to Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and that it was trying to minimize civilian casualties.
Since Monday, it has toppled three high-rise buildings that it said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.
At least one top Hamas commander was among the dead, according to the group’s military wing.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” according to a military spokesman.
“The chief of staff is inspecting those preparations and providing guidance,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Thursday.
Meanwhile, tensions and clashes that first flared weeks ago in Jerusalem have swept across Israel in a wave of fury as the conflict in Gaza escalates. Dozens of people were arrested in towns across the country where clashes and rioting broke out.
In Lod, near Tel Aviv, groups of Jewish and Arab people ignored a nighttime curfew and battled on the streets, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
Two people were shot and one Israeli Jew was stabbed there, police said.
In nearby Bat Yam, an Israeli mob dragged an Arab motorist from his car and attacked him, leaving him in a serious condition.
The domestic violence was among the worst since the 2000 Palestinian intifada.
In a video address to the nation Thursday, defense chief Benny Gantz — who is also the head of a party opposed to Netanyahu — appealed for unity and said the internal strife “is no less dangerous than Hamas’ rockets.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also urged against a “senseless civil war,” international figures warned that the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza risked spiraling toward an all-out conflict.
Many world leaders have also condemned the violence and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to show “maximum restraint” while criticizing the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” toward Israeli population centers.
The rocket attacks and airstrikes followed the unrest in Jerusalem, fomented by clashes between Israeli police, Palestinian worshippers and nationalist Israelis — as well as plans to evict Palestinian families from land claimed by Jewish settlers.
By Thursday afternoon, the number of rockets fired by Hamas was more than 1,700, Israel’s military said.
Seven Israelis including one soldier have been killed, officials said, with the civilian deaths occurring in in Lod, Ashkelon and Rishon LeZion.
Incoming flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international hub, were diverted Thursday as rocket fire again prompted emergency sirens in the country’s largest city.
The flights were diverted to Ramon International Airport, which is in the south of Israel and more than 100 miles from Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt.
Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization, said Thursday it had also fired at Ramon. Several international airlines have canceled their flights.
Alexander Smith reported from London and Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari reported from Tel Aviv.
Lawahez Jabari and The Associated Press contributed.