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Weary Gaza marks end of Ramadan amid escalating violence between Israel, Hamas

Smoke blocks out the sun above a collapsed building in Gaza
Smoke rises from a collapsed building in the Gaza Strip after it was hit by Israeli airstrikes on Wednesday.
(Associated Press)

Weary Palestinians on Thursday prepared for a somber feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas militants and Israeli forces traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel.

The outburst of Mideast violence has reached deeper into Israel than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Arab and Jewish mobs are rampaging through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars, and flights are being canceled or diverted from the country’s main airport.

The escalating fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has echoed — and perhaps even exceeded — their devastating 2014 war. That conflict and two others were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round of fighting — which like the intifada, began in Jerusalem — seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.

In Gaza, residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes in reprisal, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air. Since the rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled three high-rise apartment buildings housing Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.

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In the first sign of possible progress in efforts for a cease-fire, an Egyptian security delegation was in Tel Aviv on Thursday for talks with Israeli officials after meeting Hamas officials in Gaza, two Egyptian intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Even as word came of their presence, a volley of some 100 rockets from Gaza was fired toward southern and central Israel. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 87 Palestinians, including 18 children, with more than 530 people wounded. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, acknowledged that 13 of its fighters, including a top commander, were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.

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.

U.S. backs Israel’s right to self-defense but says military has an ‘extra burden’ to avoid killing civilians as scores of Palestinians die in Gaza.

The fighting comes as Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.

Instead, Hamas urged the faithful to mark communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques rather than out in the open, as is traditional.

Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passersby after prayers, but acknowledged “there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”

“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”

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In Gaza’s southern town of Khan Younis, dozens of mourners marched through the streets carrying the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old killed when an Israeli airstrike hit near their home Wednesday.

A reporter in Tel Aviv describes what she’s seeing during the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The owner of a five-story building in Gaza City, meanwhile, said he got a call from the Israeli military Thursday asking him to evacuate it before an airstrike brought it down.

“The building is residential — what is in it to hit?” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

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The Israeli military later said the building housed intelligence offices used by Hamas.

Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about 45 miles to the north, for a second straight day.

Israel has begun diverting 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. Several flights have also been canceled in recent days.

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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 defenses have intercepted 90% of the rockets. Israeli airstrikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.

The Israeli army shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva early Thursday, apparently sparking a large fire. It said the strike wounded people and caused significant damage.

“We’re coping, sitting at home, hoping it will be OK,” said Motti Haim, a resident of the central town of Beer Yaakov and father of two children. “It’s not simple running to the shelter. It’s not easy with the kids.”

Despite cease-fire efforts, both sides were vowing to push ahead.

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Israel’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorized a widening of the offensive. “It will take more time, but with great firmness ... we will achieve our goal — to restore peace to the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said during a visit to anti-missile defense batteries.

Not long afterward, air-raid sirens rang out in Tel Aviv and around southern and central Israel as the warning system showed dozens of incoming rockets from Gaza.

A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing declared in a video speech that the “decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water.” Dimona is the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor. “Our conflict will reach you whenever you turn any aggression against our people.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli population centers, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.” President Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to try to calm tensions.

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Why is Biden treading so gingerly as violence escalates in Jerusalem, Israel and Palestinian territories? Four years of Trump’s pro-Israel policy, plus thorny domestic politics, leave Washington with fewer options than at any time in recent history.

The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and confrontations with police. A 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 who threw chairs and stones at them.

Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict between the bitter enemies: Israel regards the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War, to be the capital of their future state.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday in a dramatic escalation of hostilities. Hamas banners could be seen outside Al Aqsa on Thursday as thousands gathered there for Eid prayers.

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The fighting has set off violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.

But ugly conflicts erupted across the country late Wednesday. Jewish and Arab mobs battled in the central city of Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, despite a state of emergency and nighttime curfew. In nearby Bat Yam, a mob of Jewish nationalists attacked an Arab motorist, dragged him from his car and beat him until he was motionless.

Israeli police said two people were shot and wounded in Lod and a Jewish Israeli citizen was stabbed. An Arab citizen was stabbed and seriously wounded in Jerusalem’s central Mahane Yehuda market, where many Arabs work in restaurants and as food vendors. Dozens of people were arrested in towns across Israel where clashes and rioting broke out.

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In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said it thwarted a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two people. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspected gunman was killed. No details were immediately available.

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 Islamist Arab party. But the longer the fighting lasts, the more it could hamper their attempts at forming a coalition.


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