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Fears of 'full-scale war' as Israel-Palestinian clashes kill 56
Rockets are launched towards Israel from Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 12, 2021.
AFP/SAID KHATIB

Fears of 'full-scale war' as Israel-Palestinian clashes kill 56

Ben Simon (Agence France-Presse) - May 12, 2021 - 8:00pm

TEL AVIV, Israel — Relentless rocket fire and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns fuelled growing fears Wednesday that violence between Israel and Palestinians that has claimed 56 lives could spiral into "full-scale war".

Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza to bring "total, long-term quiet" before considering a ceasefire. 

Islamist militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel's army, which has launched hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded costal enclave of Gaza.

The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 48 people in Gaza, including 14 children, three Palestinians in the West Bank, and five Israelis since Monday. 

The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

As world powers voiced growing alarm and the UN Security Council readied for another emergency meeting on the bloody crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that "we're escalating towards a full-scale war".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said "wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents".

There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a "pogrom" in which "an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob" had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces. 

'Step back from the brink'

Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel's army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.

Of these, 850 rockets have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome air defence system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes at Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as Palestinian "terror" sites. 

At least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to "step back from the brink" and to "show restraint".

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, voiced concern at the escalation and said "crimes" may have been committed. 

Bensouda announced in March that she had opened a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, infuriating Israel, which not a member of The Hague-based court.

'Everything caught fire'

Gantz earlier warned that "this is just the beginning" of Israel's campaign, now dubbed "Guardian of the Walls".

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up its operation code-named "Sword of Jerusalem", warning that "if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it".

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said he expected the fighting to intensify and, when asked about unconfirmed reports that Hamas might seek a ceasefire, said: "I don't think my commanders are aware, or particularly interested."

Violence also flared in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinians were killed, including two shot in clashes near Nablus and near Hebron.

In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-storey building near the coast. Hamas said the tower block had been a residential building. AFP reporters said it also housed the offices of several Hamas officials.

Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.

"We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire," their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.

"I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces," said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears. 

'We don't have a safe room'

In Israel's central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel's foreign ministry identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli. 

Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52. 

"I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket. It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don't have a safe room," said Ismail.  

An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into "hell", rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.

The crisis started last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.

Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

CONFLICT ISRAEL PALESTINE
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 30, 2021 - 9:01am

More than 100 rockets were fired Monday from Gaza towards Israel by multiple Palestinian armed groups, Hamas Islamists who control the blockaded enclave said. 

The Israeli army had earlier confirmed at least 45 rocket launches, most targeting areas near the Gaza border, but seven were directed towards Jerusalem. 

The army later sent an update that the rocket fired had continued through the night. No Israeli fatalities have been reported. —  AFP

May 30, 2021 - 9:01am

More than 1,000 rally in Washington in support of  Palestinians and calling for an end to US aid to Israel.

The demonstration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial came as a ceasefire that ended 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip has so far held.

"We are hoping to send a clear message to the United States government that the days of supporting the Israeli state without repercussions are over," one of the demonstrators, 39-year-old Washington lawyer Sharif Silmi, says as he stood in the crowd where many protesters held red, white, green and black Palestinian flags. —  AFP

May 24, 2021 - 8:22pm

The United States' Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs Monday for a Middle East trip aimed at consolidating the ceasefire that brought 11 days of deadly bombardment between Israel and Hamas to a halt.

"Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel's security," US President Joe Biden said in a statement. 

"He will continue our administration's efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect." —  AFP

May 23, 2021 - 9:20am

The UN Security Council calls for "full adherence to the ceasefire" in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in its first statement since violence erupted on May 10.

Security Council members also stress "the immediate need for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, particularly in Gaza."

The statement received backing from the US delegation — which had blocked earlier drafts — only after the removal of a paragraph condemning the violence, a sensitive issue since it raised the question of blame. —  AFP

May 21, 2021 - 9:27am

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East "in the coming days," the State Department said Thursday after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire halting 11 days of fighting.

Blinken spoke with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, who "welcomed Secretary Blinken's planned travel to the region, where the secretary will meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians," State Department spokesman Ned Price said. — AFP

May 21, 2021 - 7:13am

Ceasefire between Israel, Hamas officially comes into force. — AFP

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