JERUSALEM, Israel – Rockets from the Gaza Strip continued to rain on Israeli cities overnight and Thursday as Israel’s military stepped up its offensive against terror groups in the coastal enclave.
Israel’s air raids on Wednesday hit key Hamas targets, including the terror organization’s main bank, the home of a battalion commander, internal security headquarters, a naval compound, and other infrastructure, the military said.
The airstrikes have killed as many as 10 senior Hamas military leaders and toppled two high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities.
But Gaza terrorists showed no signs of stopping and continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rockets throughout the night and into early Thursday.
The terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which operates alongside Hamas in the Gaza Strip, warned that Israel’s retaliatory strikes would only lead to “an even wider response” from them.
Gaza residents huddled indoors to escape the carnage around them.
“There is nowhere to run. There is nowhere to hide,” Zeyad Khattab, a 44-year-old pharmacist, told The Associated Press. “That terror is impossible to describe.”
Just miles across the Gaza border, Israelis hid in bomb shelters.
“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.”
Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A total of seven Israelis have been killed in the fighting, including four who died on Wednesday. Among them was a six-year-old boy who was hit during a rocket attack.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said at least 69 Palestinians have been killed in the airstrikes, including 16 children. Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several of its members are among the dead. Meanwhile, PIJ confirmed the deaths of seven of its members.
Israel claims the number of terrorists killed during its airstrikes is much higher than Hamas admits. It also says a number of the fatalities inside Gaza are the result of errant terror rockets.
The United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that cease-fire efforts are underway, but the violence only continues to escalate.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet decided to expand Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
This is the worst fighting between Israel and Gaza since the summer war of 2014. Israel’s military says Gaza has fired about 1,500 rockets at civilians in just three days. That’s about one-third of the rockets fired during the entire 2014 war.
Meanwhile, Israel has pounded more than 350 targets in Gaza.
This eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem amid weeks of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. It has coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sentiments and calls for jihad by extremist Muslims. Leading up to the attacks, there were nightly clashes between Israeli police and Arabs in Jerusalem’s Old City, where critics say heavy-handed Israeli police measures stoked unrest. Israel says the police were responding harshly to Palestinian agitators and rioters in the Holy City.
Another flashpoint of violence has been the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in eastern Jerusalem, where a looming court decision threatens to evict dozens of Palestinians who have lived there for decades. The Israelis at the center of the legal dispute argue the Palestinians should leave their homes in Sheikh Jarrah because the neighborhood was inhabited by Jews before Israel became a state. The Palestinians say Israel is trying to commit ethnic cleansing in the contested neighborhood. Both sides accuse each other of fueling the legal dispute with their own nationalist ideologies.
Another focal point is the Al-Aqsa mosque complex on the Temple Mount. For days, Palestinian worshippers hurled stones and chairs at Israeli forces as police fired tear gas and stun grenades to quell the riots.
Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, began firing rockets from Gaza on Monday, setting off days of fighting.
Israel’s conflict with Gaza has spilled over into deadly clashes between Jews and Arabs across Israel. In the central Israel city of Lod, Jewish and Arab mobs battled each other in the streets on Wednesday, despite a nighttime curfew and state of emergency.
The Israeli military said on Wednesday it foiled a Palestinian shooting attack in the West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria.
The violence also comes at a time of political limbo for both Israelis and Palestinians. Just weeks before the rockets began, Palestinian leaders canceled what would have been the first Palestinian election in 15 years, sparking fears of unrest.
Israel is also caught in a years-long political stalemate. After four elections in just two years, it is still unclear when Israelis will have a government and who will lead it. In the meantime, Netanyahu is leading a “caretaker” government while Israel battles Gaza and political opponents battle each other over who will be Israel’s next prime minister.