Middle East

Military offensive on Gaza as sectarian violence erupts in Israel

Palestinian-Jewish beatings in several cities as air strikes leave 103 dead in the Strip and seven dead in Israel

3 min
Explosion lights up the sky after Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip

SabadellThe Israeli army began on Thursday night to Friday a military intervention in the Gaza Strip, after four days of bombing. The armed forces had announced during the day that they had ground units ready and "in different stages of preparation" to start a ground operation in the Strip, and finally the action was confirmed minutes after 23 h, at Catalan time (after midnight in Israel). "There are troops attacking Gaza, along with the air force", said army spokesman Jonathan Conricus. However, in a contact with the press shortly after, the Israeli army has pointed out that the attack does not include ground troops at the moment, but air strikes and artillery fired from outside the Strip.

At the moment it is unknown whether the army's intention was to carry out a surgical incursion into the Strip to attack specific Hamas targets or whether it was a large-scale invasion, similar to the one carried out during the 2014 Gaza offensive, which left more than 2,200 dead in this territory. The intervention was preceded by an increase in the intensity of the shelling that has hit the Strip since Monday, and which last night had already left 103 dead (including 27 minors) and 580 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry. The entry of the army into the Strip means raising the level of tension, contrary to all the appeals of the international community calling for gestures to de-escalate the conflict. At the same time, however, the major world powers have at all times defended Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza (which so far have left seven dead, including a five-year-old boy and a teenage girl), and yesterday the president of the United States, Joe Biden, endorsed the bombardment of the Strip, assuring that, from his point of view, there had been "no overreaction" in the Israeli response.

Before the start of the ground operation another spokesman for the armed forces, Hidai Zilberman, said that the air strikes on the Strip had killed between 80 and 90 members of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Acting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the armed forces had attacked about a thousand targets, linked, according to him, to Islamist groups. Meanwhile, according to Israeli sources, some 1,600 rockets have been fired from Gaza since Monday. Yesterday evening, the Israeli military reported that three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel, but landed in the sea without causing damage. At the moment it is not known who fired them, but Al-Jazeera reported that they were fired from near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh.

"Senseless civil war"

The army's entry into Gaza came at a sensitive time in Israel, which in the past two days has seen heavy clashes between Jewish and Palestinian communities in the cities where the two coexist. In a gesture unprecedented in recent decades, Palestinians of Israeli nationality, who represent 20% of the country's population, have mobilised massively against the attacks in Gaza. The protests have resulted in hundreds of arrests and have led to some serious violence. The country's president, Reuven Rivlin, yesterday called for a halt to "this madness", adding: "We are in danger from the rockets being fired at our citizens and meanwhile we are entertaining a senseless civil war among ourselves".

Earlier this morning, at least one Jew and one Palestinian were left in critical condition after suffering beatings. In Bat Yam, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a group of Jewish ultras pulled a driver they had identified as Palestinian out of his car and beat him until he was unconscious. In Acre, in the north of the country, a 37-year-old Jewish teacher was attacked with sticks and stones, according to the police, by a group of Palestinians who had forced him out of the car. Both events have been unanimously condemned by Israeli political leaders. "Nothing justifies the beating of Arabs by Jews and nothing justifies the beating of Jews by Arabs", Netanyahu said.

There are further examples: demonstrations by Jewish ultras shouting "death to Arabs", a Palestinian and a Jew stabbed, a police officer shot and wounded by a Palestinian, two journalists attacked by two Jewish ultra-nationalists, cars and shops burned... The situation is especially tense in Lod, where on Tuesday a synagogue was burned, on Wednesday a mosque was attacked and yesterday several videos showed a group of people fleeing while gunshots were heard. In addition, three Jews accused of shooting a Palestinian man to death during Monday's protests in the city were released yesterday. Since Tuesday, Lod has been under a state of emergency and curfew. And the tension does not seem to be easing.