Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
Gaza City: Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes early Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with no endgame in sight.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired barrages of hundreds of rockets that at times have overwhelmed Israel’s missile defences, causing air raid sirens and explosions to echo across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.
Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.
Warning shots have allowed civilians to evacuate the buildings, but the material losses will be immense. Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said.
A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 43 Palestinians, including 13 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. Nearly 300 people have been wounded. Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded.
On Wednesday, Gaza militants fired an anti-tank missile across the border, killing an Israeli and wounding two others, who were evacuated under fire, according to Eli Bein, head of the Magen David Adom emergency service. It was not immediately clear if they were soldiers or civilians.
The Israeli military said militants have fired more 1,050 rockets since the conflict began, with 200 of them falling short and landing inside Gaza. The military said it also shot down a drone that entered Israel from Gaza. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, aged 3 to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.
The destruction of apartment towers was among several tactics used during the 2014 war that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.
In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence in the region and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.
Conricus said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement and follow international laws on armed conflict. “We are definitely very mindful of civilian casualties in Gaza and we want to minimize them,” he said.
“That’s the priority.”
The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of 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 compound, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers convinced both sides to accept an informal truce.
While the violence has been widely condemned, there is no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time.”
Still, diplomats are seeking to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations working to deliver a cease-fire.
The UN Security Council also planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days Wednesday on the escalating violence. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the UN’s most powerful body did not issue a statement because of US concerns that it could escalate tensions.
The unrest in Jerusalem has spread across Israel itself, with an outbreak of communal violence in mixed Jewish-Arab communities, as Hamas has called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising also began with violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in 2000, and lasted more than five years.
In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday when a rocket had landed in the courtyard of their one-story home. Their car parked outside was wrecked and the interior of the house was filled by debris. The deceased were reportedly Arab citizens of Israel.
Lod also saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man who was killed the previous night, the suspect a Jewish gunman. The crowd fought with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles, including a police car, on fire, Israeli media reported. Paramedics said a 56-year-old man was seriously hurt after his car was pelted with stones.