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Israel intensifies attacks in Gaza as conflict enters fifth day

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media captionIsraeli ground troops are massing on the border with Gaza after another night of violence

The Israeli military has intensified its assault on Gaza, as Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel on the fifth day of hostilities.

Israel’s army said air and ground forces were involved in attacks on Friday but had not entered Gaza.

Video from Gaza City showed the night sky lit up by explosions from Israeli artillery, gunboats and air strikes.

More than 100 people have been killed in Gaza and seven in Israel since fighting began on Monday.

Meanwhile, Jewish and Israeli-Arab mobs have been fighting within Israel, prompting its president to warn of civil war.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” of security forces to suppress the internal unrest that has seen more than 400 people arrested.

Police say Israeli Arabs have been responsible for most of the trouble and reject the accusation that they are standing by while gangs of Jewish youths target Arab homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed introducing “administrative detention” for rioters. The controversial measure would allow authorities to detain people for extended periods of time without charge.

In Gaza, Palestinians fearing an incursion by Israeli troops have been fleeing areas close to the border with Israel. The Israeli military said it had conducted an operation overnight to destroy a network of Hamas tunnels, but no troops had entered Gaza.

Meanwhile Hamas fired three more volleys amounting to about 55 rockets in total into Israel on Thursday evening. An 87-year-old woman died after falling on her way to a bomb shelter near Ashdod in southern Israel. Other areas including Ashkelon, Beersheba and Yavne were also targeted.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionHealth workers and civilians carry a wounded man after Israeli airstrikes at a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

In a statement released early on Friday morning, Mr Netanyahu said the Israeli military operation against Palestinian militants in Gaza would continue for as long as necessary. He said Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, would pay a heavy price.

A Hamas military spokesman said the group was ready to teach Israel’s military “harsh lessons” should it decide to go ahead with a ground incursion.

This week’s violence in Gaza and Israel is the worst since 2014. It was initially fuelled by weeks of Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem which led to clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. This spiralled into an incessant exchange of Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes.

image copyrightReuters

image captionA satellite image shows an overview of Ashkelon, which has been attacked by rockets fired from Gaza

On Thursday, Israel’s military called up 7,000 army reservists and deployed troops and tanks near its border with Gaza. It said a ground offensive into Gaza was one option being considered but a decision had yet to be made.

As fighting entered its fifth day, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called for “an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel”.

His plea echoed that of other diplomats – including from Israel’s ally the US – but appeals to Israeli and Palestinian leaders have so far failed to produce a ceasefire agreement.

A senior Hamas official has said the group is ready for a “reciprocal” ceasefire if the international community pressures Israel to “suppress military actions” at the disputed al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionIsrael deployed additional troops to its border with Gaza on Thursday

In other developments on Thursday:

  • Three rockets were fired from Lebanon into the sea off the coast of northern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. No group claimed the attack but several militant groups operate in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006
  • Israel’s military said it had hit targets in Gaza that included intelligence buildings, homes and businesses used by militants
  • A Hamas spokesman said the group had shown “only a small part” of its capabilities
  • International airlines, including KLM, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have suspended services to Israel. Incoming flights were also diverted south from Tel Aviv’s main airport
media captionBBC reporters are on the ground in Gaza, Lod and Jerusalem

At least 103 Palestinians have been killed since Monday, including 27 children, and more than 580 wounded, the health ministry in Gaza said. Officials in the territory said many civilians had died.

Israel says dozens of those killed in Gaza were militants, and that some of the deaths are from misfired rockets from Gaza.

In the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, a young boy was killed when rocket fire hit his home and shrapnel penetrated the shelter he was hiding in.

Israel has also called up 10 reserve border patrol companies to help tackle the worst unrest between Arab and Jewish communities for many years. Political leaders have appealed for calm, and President Reuven Rivlin described the outbreaks of rioting in several towns and cities as “senseless civil war”.

What caused the violence?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem.

The site is revered by both Muslims, who call it the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and Jews, for whom it is known as the Temple Mount. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. Hamas launched rockets when its ultimatum went unheeded.

Palestinian anger had already been stoked by weeks of rising tension in East Jerusalem, inflamed by a series of confrontations with police since the start of Ramadan in mid-April.

It was further fuelled by the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers and Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, known as Jerusalem Day.

The fate of the city, with its deep religious and national significance to both sides, lies at the heart of the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel in effect annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognised by the vast majority of other countries.

Palestinians claim the eastern half of Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for state of their own.

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