Israel steps up attacks on Gaza with heavy bombing overnight

‘Hamas is paying a very heavy price’: Netanyahu issues new warning as his forces drop 1,000 bombs into Gaza overnight and ground troops fire across the border as Lebanon fires rockets into Israel’s north

  • Israel stepped up its attacks on Gaza overnight with more than 1,000 bombs and shells pounding northern and eastern areas in the heaviest attacks of the conflict so far
  • There was panic and confusion when the IDF suggested troops were on the ground in Gaza, before retracting the statement and saying that forces attacked Hamas tunnels along the border but did not cross it
  • Still, fears of invasion remain with thousands of troops moving to the border and 9,000 reservists called up 
  • Meanwhile Hamas has continued firing hundreds of rockets at Israel from Gaza and was joined overnight by three rockets fired from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, though all of them fell short
  • More street clashes took place in Israeli-Arab city of Lod, with fighting reported in Jaffa and Umm al-Fahm

Israel stepped up its attacks on the Gaza Strip overnight with the heaviest bombardment yet by land, sea and air amid fears of a ground invasion with thousands of troops moved to the border.

Helicopters, gun boats and artillery pounded northern and eastern parts of Gaza with more than 1,000 bombs and shells overnight Thursday as the IDF said it had carried out a ‘complex’ operation to destroy Hamas tunnels.

There was confusion and panic when the IDF said shortly after midnight that ground forces were ‘attacking’ in Gaza, and later suggested that boots were on the ground. However, a spokesman later retracted that statement – saying that military operations were conducted along the border, but no Israeli troops had crossed it.

But the spectre of invasion now looms large with Israeli troops packing border areas, 9,000 reservists called up, and people told to evacuate from homes along the frontier. Any invasion would mark a major escalation in the violence and likely send the death toll – which currently stands at 115 Palestinians and eight Israelis – soaring. 

Meanwhile more street clashes took place overnight in the mixed Israeli-Arab city of Lod which has seen nightly rioting ever since hostilities broke out earlier this week – with synagogues, cars and shops torched amid reports that Israelis have taken to the streets armed with guns and bats to protect themselves as police are overwhelmed.

A 19-year-old IDF solider was badly beaten in the Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa, a Jewish family were attacked inside their car in Umm al-Fahm, with far-right Jewish groups called for attacks on Arabs and their businesses in the cities of Be’er Sheva and Ramle, according to Israeli news site Ynet. 

Hamas has also continued to fire hundreds of rockets from Gaza at cities in Israel and was joined overnight by three rockets fired from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon – though all of them fell short.

Despite the rapidly escalating violence and amid calls for urgent deescalation from world leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed today that there would be no let-up in attacks.

I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas. We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force,’ he said.  

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14 as the violence continues

Fire billows from Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip overnight as the IDF stepped up attacks directed at Hamas

A building in Gaza City is seen alight in the early hours of Friday morning

The night sky on Friday is lit up as rockets are fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli forces launched ground, sea and air attacks towards Gaza Strip

Rockets are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip

Smoke and flames rise after an Israeli airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, in an operation that the IDF said was designed to destroy Hamas tunnel networks

Rockets light up the night sky as they are fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip

An Israeli 155mm self-propelled howitzer, loaded on a trailer, arrives at a position along the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday 

The Israeli Defence Forces said that 160 aircraft flying simultaneously conducted a 40-minute attack on a network of tunnels dug by the Hamas, with 450 missiles dropped on 150 targets in northern Gaza.

After the air strikes were launched, some 500 artillery shells — some flares and some explosive — along with 50 tank shells were fired in a follow-up attack.  

Late on Thursday night and into the Friday morning, two Israelis were injured in the latest barrage of rocket fire launched from Gaza.

Five rockets landed in the Israeli city of Ashkelon – one of them hit a residential building and seriously injured a 60-year-old man. Another man, aged 90, sustained light injuries when he was hit in the head on the way to a bomb shelter. 

Officials ordered everyone living within miles of the border to go to bunkers amid fears of fierce retaliation from Hamas.

Fears of an all-out war escalated in the early hours of Friday morning as the military said just after midnight that air and ground forces were ‘attacking’ the Hamas-run enclave. Rocket barrages from Gaza swiftly followed.

IDF spokesmen then appeared to confirm to multiple journalists that boots were on the ground in Gaza, before an urgent clarification was issued saying that no troops had crossed the border and apologising for the earlier mistake which was blamed on ‘internal communication issues’.

Residents in northern Gaza, near the Israeli frontier, said they had seen no sign of Israeli ground forces inside the enclave but reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of air strikes. 

Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, saying the move would be a chance ‘to increase our catch’ of dead or captive soldiers.

It is not yet clear if any offensive will be to destroy rocket sites or Hamas leaders or part of an extended campaign to invade Gaza.

Earlier Israel called up 9,000 reservists to bolster its forces as it deployed troops to the border in preparation for the ground assault.

Relentless air strikes continued to decimate Hamas strongholds in the Strip on Thursday as their brigades held funerals for slain commanders, including the terror boss of Gaza City and their intelligence chief.

Meanwhile three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards northern Israel but reportedly fell into the Mediterranean without injuring anyone.

Local media said they were fired by one of the Palestinian factions in Lebanon and that it was not the start of Hezbollah getting involved in the conflict.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing the prospect of a war on two fronts as internal rioting by Jewish and Arab mobs descended into ‘lynchings’ in the worst civil unrest for decades.

Hamas requested a ceasefire on a ‘mutual basis’ late on Wednesday after firing more than 1,600 rockets into densely populated Israeli neighbourhoods, killing seven civilians including a five-year-old boy.

Netanyahu rejected the peace offering despite growing international alarm at the rising civilian death toll after over 600 air strikes on Hamas targets – 103 Palestinians have been killed, including 27 children and 11 women.

A graphic shows some of the areas of Gaza that have been targeted by air strikes from Israeli forces and the position of some Israeli weaponry

Palestinian families are pictured in a street after evacuating their homes east of Gaza City on May 13 due to heavy shelling by the Israeli military

Palestinian families are pictured in a street after evacuating their homes east of Gaza City late on Thursday evening amid shelling

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli forces launched ground, sea and air attacks towards Gaza Strip overnight

Israeli firefighters battle a field fire after a rocket launched from Gaza strip struck last night in Ramla

Rockets are fired towards Israel from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip last night

An Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip lights up the sky as the conflict continues to rumble on

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli forces launched ground, sea and air attacks towards Gaza Strip overnight

Rockets fired from Gaza fly towards Israel, as seen from Gaza City, in response to days of violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem

Smoke rises over houses in Ashkelon following a rocket attack launched from Gaza towards Ashkelon, southern Israel

Rockets are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip in the early hours of Friday

An Israeli firefighter battles a field fire after a rocket launched from Gaza strip struck overnight in Ramla, Israel

An Israeli firefighter walks in the early hours of Friday around a synagogue, after it was set on fire by Arab-Israelis, in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod

Rockets are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip in the early hours of Friday

Israeli security forces have also been scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, and projectiles have been fired on Israel from Lebanon.

The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict, while the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was ‘deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel’.

‘We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,’ Blinken said.

The Israeli army clarified early Friday that its troops had not entered the Gaza Strip as it had earlier stated, blaming an ‘internal communication’ problem for the confusion.

There were intense artillery exchanges on Thursday night, with Israeli troops seen assembling at the security barrier.

Balls of flames rose high into the sky after strikes smashed into densely packed Gaza.

Dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza towards the southern Israeli coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, and in the vicinity of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

Lt Col Conricus said the country was ‘prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios’, describing a ground offensive as ‘one scenario’.

Troops were ordered to the Gaza border on Thursday in ‘various stages of preparing ground operations’, a military spokesman said, a move which recalls similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.

The IDF had said an infantry assault was just ‘one scenario’ which was being considered as it deployed several units to the border, including the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armoured Brigade.

‘The campaign is still far from over,’ a minister said after a cabinet meeting last night with Netanyahu. ‘Whatever we don’t do now, we will have to do in six months or a year from now.’

He told Israeli news site Ynet: ‘When we have hit all our targets and the other side has still not surrendered, we will launch a ground operation even though we do not seek it.’

Plans for the ground invasion were earlier being drafted for approval by Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Aviv Kohavi later on Thursday, according to the Jerusalem Post. If they get the General’s sign off, the plans will be passed on to Netanyahu and his cabinet.

‘This will not end in the next few days,’ the cabinet minister added. ‘Israel will not stop and has no interest in stopping.

‘It is all moving in the right direction. We will act until they admit that opening fire was a mistake, just as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.’

Rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, early Friday morning as the growing Middle East conflict continues

Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Friday, as the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet

Rockets light up the night sky as they are fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday morning

Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Friday, as the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet 

Rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, early Friday morning as the growing Middle East conflict continues

Rockets light up the night sky as they are fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday morning

A fire started by rioters in the middle of the street in the Hadar neighborhood late on Thursday night in Haifa, Israel

Jewish and Arab mobs engage in nightly riots amid fears that ‘lynchings’ could lead to Israeli civil war

Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday ordered a ‘massive reinforcement’ of security forces to quell mob violence across the country, where police stations have been attacked and people savagely beaten on both sides. 

Coinciding with the aerial bombardments is surging violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that violence was at a nadir not seen for decades and that police were ‘literally preventing pogroms from taking place’.

Hundreds were protesting in the Arab town of Kafr Kassem in central Israel, burning tires and torching police vehicles, he said.

He added that nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and that more than 400 people had been arrested.

On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis.

Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa.

Israeli television Wednesday aired footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab until he lay unconscious on his back in a street in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv.

‘The victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable,’ Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said, without identifying him.

A state of emergency has been declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where an Arab resident was shot dead and a synagogue has been torched.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a ‘pogrom’ in which ‘an incited and blood-thirsty Arab mob’ had attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

It comes as the U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said, reaching a compromise over U.S. objections to a meeting on Friday.

Diplomats said the United States, a close ally of Israel, had initially suggested a virtual public meeting could be held on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday he hoped waiting a few days would allow for ‘diplomacy to have some effect and to see if indeed we get a real de-escalation,’ adding that Washington was ‘open to and supportive of a discussion, an open discussion, at the United Nations.’

Hostilities entered their fifth day overnight, with no sign of abating. Israel fired artillery and mounted more air strikes against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip amid constant rocket fire deep into Israel’s commercial centre.

The 15-member council has met privately twice this week about the worst hostilities in the region in years, but has so far been unable to agree on a public statement, diplomats said.

Such statements are agreed to by consensus, and the United States did not believe it would be helpful, they said.

All council members also have to agree to a meeting under rules guiding the body’s virtual operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has urged citizens to ‘reconsider travel to Israel’ due to the recent surge in violence.

The travel advisory level, which had been lowered in recent weeks due to improvement in the country’s Covid-19 situation, was stepped up to Level 3, out of a maximum of four.

‘Reconsider travel to Israel due to armed conflict and civil unrest,’ the department said in a statement.

‘Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel, including Jerusalem,’ it said.

‘There has been a marked increase in protests and violence throughout Israel.’

Washington was also advising that Americans ‘do not travel’ to Gaza due to ‘Covid-19, terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict,’ as well as avoiding the West Bank due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

As Joe Biden and Boris Johnson made appeals for calm, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a forceful partisan condemnation – saying that Israel needed to be taught a ‘lesson’.

He told Russia’s Vladimir Putin during a phone call of the need for ‘the international community to give Israel a strong and deterrent lesson’ as he called on the UN to intervene with a ‘determined and clear message.’ 

The appeals fell on deaf ears as Israel and Hamas exchanged cross-border blows throughout the early hours of Thursday – sending Israelis fleeing into air raid shelters, while Palestinians evacuated their apartments.    

Among the high-ranking commanders ‘neutralised’ in strikes on Wednesday were Brigadier General Bassem Issa, chief of the Gaza City Brigades, and Jamal Zabda, head of the group’s rocket unit and responsible for the improved accuracy of their projectiles.  

The IDF has now launched strikes – 95 per cent of which have been carried out aerially – on more than 700 targets, including militants, infrastructure, missile-launch sites, central banks and administrative buildings key to maintaining power in the Strip. 

The military insists the loss of such key Hamas infrastructure will affect the militant group for years to come. 

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Palestinian families fleeing from their homes at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, take shelter in a school as Israeli forces continue to pound Gaza Strip

Gaza’s death toll passes 100 with 27 children and 11 women killed, officials say

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 103.

Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, with 580 people wounded. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while

Hamas has acknowledged 13 of its militants killed, including a senior commander. Israel says the number of militants dead is much higher.

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.

Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman told reporters early Thursday: ‘Tonight we started destroying government targets in the Gaza Strip, such as central banks and internal security buildings. Hamas is beginning to discover cracks and there is pressure in the organization, even among the Gaza public who is losing its patience and sees these ruins on the eve of the holiday (Eid).’   

Three tower blocks have been levelled in assaults by the Israel Air Force and the Islamists’ network of underground tunnels has been decimated by bunker buster bombs.

As well as high-ranking commanders, the IDF say they have killed another 60 Hamas militants.

Funerals for 14 slain Hamas members, including the terror chief Issa, were held at the Omari Grand Mosque in Gaza City on Thursday.

Hundreds of men were seen walking through the streets with the bodies draped in the green flags of Hamas as sobbing women and children watched from windows and balconies.

At the same time, in the Israeli settlement of Eliakim, hundreds of family members and comrades attended the funeral of 21-year-old soldier Omer Tabib.

Tabib was killed close to the border with Gaza on Wednesday by an anti-tank missile fired at his jeep.

‘Omer, my beautiful child, six years we waited for you and the patience paid off – we received a beautiful child with an eternal smile on his face,’ his mother Tali said, according to Haaretz.

‘I refuse to believe that instead of a blessing for your [finishing the army], I’m searching for words to summarise the period of your life. I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to do it. In my blackest dreams I never thought I’d reach this point. Omer, my beautiful child, give us the strength to know how to continue on.’  

The fighting has sparked violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in ugly scenes which have not been witnessed for more than 20 years amid fears of a civil war. 

Nine high-ranking commanders and other senior Hamas figures have been neutralised since Monday, including Brigadier General Bassem Issa and Jamal Zabda, head of the group’s rocket unit, according to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF)

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