With Israel preparing for a ground invasion, the besieged enclave is bracing for more casualties and damages after facing days of escalating and deadly violence.
Weary Palestinians marked a deadly Eid al Fitr festival, drawing an end to the Muslim month of fasting, as continuing Israeli air strikes in Gaza kill at least 83 people.
Gaza’s Health Ministry confirmed on Thursday that the enclave’s death toll rose to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children, as the number of wounded reached 487 since the start of hostilities late on Monday.
Israel continued pummelling Gaza with air strikes on Thursday, as local media quoted Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman as saying plans for a ground invasion of Gaza have been drawn up to be presented to the Staff for approval.
Two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz also ordered a “massive reinforcement” in Israel where weeks of Israeli violence in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank has resulted in communal protests and more police brutality.
Eid al Fitr, the holiday marking the end of a month of daylong fasting, is usually a festive time which families prepare for by shopping for new clothes and planning large feasts.
But in Gaza residents braced for more devastation as Israel carries out one wave of bone-rattling air strikes after another, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air.
Thursday’s strikes hit al Walid, a five-storey building, in western Gaza, razing it to the ground. It housed residential apartments and commercial stores, in addition to the office of a Turkish relief group, Yardimeli.
The owner of the five-story building said he got a call from the Israeli military on Thursday asking him to evacuate it before an air strike brought it down.
“The building is residential, what is in to hit?” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
The Israeli military later said the building housed intelligence offices used by Hamas.
Israeli bombardment has so far toppled three apartment towers in the blockaded Palestinian territory.
Gaza rulers Hamas has urged the faithful to mark communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open, as is traditional.
You don’t have to be Palestinian or Muslim to speak up on what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah or Gaza.
Palestine isn’t an ethnic or a religious issue – it’s one of humanitarian and universal concern
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) May 13, 2021
Diversion of flights at Ben Gurion airport
Gaza resistance groups fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel for a second day. Armed groups like Hamas rely on homemade weaponry in stark comparison to the Israeli military armed with a $16.6 billion spending budget.
A total of seven people have been killed in Israel. Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child hit in a rocket attack.
Israel diverted 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 defences have intercepted 90 percent of the rockets. Israeli air strikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.
While United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that ceasefire efforts are under way, there were no signs of progress. Israeli television’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorised a widening of the offensive.
A mob of Israeli terrorists lynched a Palestinian man in Jaffa last night. pic.twitter.com/Ekb6wtLQbm
— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) May 13, 2021
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 from Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police.
One 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 armed with nothing, but what was at hand – chairs and stones.
Reacting to the Israeli violence in the occupied East Jerusalem, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday.
I spoke with President Abbas about the ongoing situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. I expressed condolences for the loss of life. I emphasized the need to end rocket attacks and deescalate tensions.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 13, 2021
‘Iron fist if necessary’
“We are in an emergency situation due to the national violence and it is now necessary to have a massive reinforcement of forces on the ground, and they are to be sent immediately to enforce law and order,” Gantz said on Thursday.
He specified the forces would be reservists from Israel’s border police, a force that largely operates in the occupied West Bank.
Over the past week Israeli violence in occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza set off violent clashes between Palestinians and Jews in Israel, in scenes not seen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.
But ugly clashes erupted across the country late Wednesday. Jews and Palestinians battled in the central city of Lod, the current epicentre of intercommunal clashes, despite a state of emergency and nighttime curfew.
In nearby Bat Yam, a mob of Jewish nationalists attacked a Palestinian motorist, dragged him from his car and beat him until he was motionless.
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 Arab party. But the longer the fighting lasts, the more it could hamper their attempts at forming a coalition.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies