GAZA CITY – The IDF said on Friday it launched the most intense bombardment of its five-day military operation in the Gaza Strip overnight, adding tank and artillery fire from the ground to its campaign of airstrikes as the death toll from the crisis continued to rise. .
The military said the purpose of the strikes, which included the use of 160 planes, was to destroy an elaborate network of tunnels under residential neighborhoods used by Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza.
The introduction of ground forces expands Israel’s offensive, which resulted in the most severe bombardment of Gaza since a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014.
The crisis continued to galvanize protests across the region. Palestinians have staged protests across the West Bank against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. At least 10 Palestinians were killed as Israeli forces fired at protesters, according to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry. The IDF said it was aware of reports of injuries during the protests.
In neighboring Jordan, which has a large population of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, thousands of people marched to a border post with the West Bank to protest Israeli attacks.
The IDF said on Friday that tanks fired warning shots at protesters who had crossed the Lebanese border into Israel and set the area on fire. A 21-year-old man was killed by Israeli gunfire as he tried to cross the border, according to the official Lebanese news agency.
In another signal that the conflict could spread beyond Israel’s borders with Gaza, the IDF said rockets had been fired from Syria into Israeli territory. One failed and fell into Syrian territory, activating alerts only in open areas, the military said.
This week’s shelling and the Israeli police storming of Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, strained Israel’s relations with the Arab states and disrupted Israeli efforts to forge new relations with the countries of the region. Countries that opened diplomatic relations with Israel last year in a package known as the Abrahamic Accords have criticized Israel in recent days.
The current clash began with Palestinian protests against the possible forcible removal of residents from homes that are also claimed by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. Israeli police stormed the mosque in a crackdown on protesters in the city who threw stones and directed fireworks at them. Hamas then fired a rocket salute at Israel.
Israel said the operation was necessary to defend against rocket fire from Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza that have fired rocket barrages at Israel in recent days.
A total of 122 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began earlier this week, including 31 children and 20 women, according to the Gaza health ministry. At least 900 people were injured, the ministry said.
Eight Israelis died, including a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and an elderly woman who died running to a bomb shelter overnight, according to the military. The rest of the Israelis were killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
In Gaza, Palestinian families fearing a possible Israeli land incursion fled their homes in areas near the border with Israel, including the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, heading to the Nations schools United States that would be used as shelters. An estimated 10,000 Palestinians have had to flee their homes in Gaza as a result of the violence, UN humanitarian coordinator Lynn Hastings said on Friday.
“This is the first time in my life to experience something like this,” said a man from Beit Hanoun. “The sky is blood red.
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Families who fled the northern Gaza Strip flocked to a United Nations school in Gaza City, carrying clothes in duffel bags and blue garbage bags. Families stood in the schoolyard and children crowded into classrooms.
For some, the decision to flee came suddenly. A man named Wessam said he and his family had already sheltered some of their neighbors in their home when heavy airstrikes and artillery fire hit the area around midnight on Thursday. They ran while their children screamed at the explosions.
“Everyone grabbed a few basic things and our kids and off we went,” he said. “We did not fear for our own lives or our homes as much as we feared for the lives of these little children.”
UN schools have served as shelters during previous Israeli military operations in Gaza, but the IDF also hit UN facilities.
Among the Palestinians killed in the bombing was a family of six whose home in the town of Beit Lahiya was bombed on Thursday, according to the health ministry. The bodies of the Al-Tanani family, including two parents and four young sons – aged 4, 5, 6 and 7 – were removed from the rubble of their home on Friday, the ministry said.
Israeli ground forces moved along the border with Gaza, but did not enter Palestinian territory, according to IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus. The night before, Colonel Conricus said Israeli troops entered Gaza but then retracted their statement.
Colonel Conricus said the erroneous announcement of a ground raid was the result of poor internal communication. He said he took responsibility for the mistake.
Palestinian armed groups also fired 55 rockets at Israel overnight, the army said. None of the missiles were fired at central Israel, unlike on previous nights of shelling, when the shelling reached Tel Aviv and other Israeli population centers.
A key US official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hadi Amr, arrived in Israel on Friday in a military plane to bolster US efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in the crisis. President Biden and other US officials have been in contact with Israeli leaders in an attempt to defuse the crisis in recent days.
“We will remain closely engaged. A lot of the conversations that we have can take place behind the scenes, because that is perhaps the most appropriate way to defuse the situation on the ground, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an overnight ceasefire, calling for an end to the fighting out of respect for the current Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism throughout the region ”. Mr Guterres said in a tweet.
Israel has publicly rejected a ceasefire with Hamas, while the militant group has sent mixed signals. Last night, Hamas leader Saleh al-Aruri said in a television interview that the group had refused a proposal for a three-hour break from the fighting. Earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that another Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, was ready for a mutual ceasefire.
The Israeli operation in Gaza resulted in the destruction of commercial and residential buildings, including high-rise buildings in the heart of Gaza City. Two of the buildings housed the offices of local and foreign news organizations, including London-based broadcaster Al-Araby and Palestinian Authority-affiliated newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. .
The IDF said the two buildings housed Hamas military and intelligence offices.
Sherein Al-Dali, owner of a beauty salon in Gaza’s upscale Rimal neighborhood, said his business was destroyed in an airstrike. She found the building flattened Thursday morning.
“I’m still totally in shock. I don’t know why they targeted him. He has no connection with Hamas or any activist, ”said Ms. Al-Dali, 43. “My dreams are gone,” she says.
Colonel Conricus said the military was taking steps to protect civilians. He declined to say how Israel could protect civilians while hitting tunnels under residential neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip.
—Felicia Schwartz and Tarini Parti contributed to this article.
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