Israel Steps Up Airstrikes Against Hamas in Gaza


a person that is on fireTEL AVIV—Israel struck more targets in Gaza on Thursday in what officials said was a campaign against Hamas militants, as the government scrambled to contain escalating communal violence within its own borders.

Since Monday, Israel has struck 600 targets that it described as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad weaponry and infrastructure, and killed more than 30 militants, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman. Of those, more than 10 were senior leaders in the group, he said.

Among the recent targets were several Hamas buildings, including what Israel’s military said was an intelligence office in the upscale Rimal neighborhood, the home of a battalion commander and two branches of Hamas’s main bank. Israel also struck a squad operating antitank missiles, the military said. Later Thursday, Israel said it attacked what it described as a military compound where dozens of Hamas operatives were present, as well as what it said was an apartment belonging to the head of Hamas’s drone program.

The strikes have killed more than 83 people in Gaza, including 17 children, according to Palestinian officials. Six Israelis, including one child, have been killed in the rocket fire from Gaza, while one soldier was killed by an antitank missile, according to Israeli authorities.

Col. Conricus said Israel is also advancing plans for a ground maneuver for later review by Israel’s political leaders, but no decision has been made yet.

In Gaza, morning prayers for Eid al-Fitr—which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan—were canceled as the airstrikes continued. Nine funerals were held Thursday.

Air sirens and rocket fire continued into Israel on Thursday morning after another barrage toward central Tel Aviv overnight. In the midafternoon, a fresh barrage reached Tel Aviv and Israel’s center. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired at least 1,600 rockets toward Israel since Monday evening, including 400 that have fallen short and landed in Gaza, Col. Conricus said, adding that Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system has had a 90% interception rate.

Many flights to and from Israel have been canceled, though the main international airport near Tel Aviv remains open for outbound flights. Amid the rocket fire, incoming flights were rerouted from the Ben Gurion Airport to the Ramon Airport near the Red Sea in Israel’s south.

The fighting is the worst since the two sides fought a war in 2014. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. They also have seen several escalations since spring 2018 that have almost developed into full-blown conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that he was dispatching Hady Amr, the senior State Department official with the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio, to Israel to try to encourage mediation efforts.

The United Nations and Egypt also are pressing efforts to mediate the conflict, though Israel so far has said it isn’t ready for a cease-fire.

“We are in the middle of our offensive, it is growing more powerful and increasing, because there are a lot of things that we wish to achieve in this operation,” Tzachi Hanegbi, settlement affairs minister and an observer on the security cabinet, said on Israel’s Army Radio.

Hamas’s show of force appears to be an attempt to win over frustrated Palestinians whose grievances have risen over what they see as years of efforts by Israel to push them out of Jerusalem. They have been fanned in recent days by a pending court decision on evictions. Clashes erupted over access to the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, and intensified when Israeli police used stun grenades and other riot-dispersal methods when they said people at the site were throwing stones at them.

These tensions have now also spread, with police clashing with Arab Israeli demonstrators in cities nationwide and Jewish mobs targeting Arab citizens of Israel. There have also been reports of Arab demonstrators attacking Jews. In Jerusalem, clashes occurred in Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate in the Old City and elsewhere. There were also violent incidents in Acre, Tamra and Umm Al Fahm.

Arab Israelis are the descendants of Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 war that established the country.

In Lod, where clashes have been especially intense, the city remained under a nighttime curfew and barred people from entering the city as of 5 p.m. local time.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the call-up of 10 reserve Border Patrol companies to assist with policing efforts.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said border police arrested 374 people across the country who were involved in riots and disturbances overnight. He said 36 police officers were injured.

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