The most serious outburst of bloodshed since a 2014 war took on many of the hallmarks of the destructive 50-day battle, with hundreds killed with no end in sight, as rockets rained down on Gaza and Israel battered the territory with airstrikes.
Palls of grey smoke rose in Gaza as Israeli airstrikes destroyed two apartment buildings and pounded the insurgent group’s numerous military sites, including the central police complex.
In Israel, barrages of hundreds of missiles launched by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants at times overwhelmed missile defences, causing air raid sirens and blasts to reverberate through Tel Aviv and other towns.
According to the Health Ministry, the death toll in Gaza has risen to 48 Palestinians, including 14 children and three women. Over 300 people were injured, including 86 children and 39 mothers. Six Israelis were killed by rocket fire, including three women and a boy, and hundreds were injured.
Although the increasingly escalating crisis has brought back memories from the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, the past day has also seen a surprising new factor: a burst of rage from Israel’s Palestinian civilians in favour of those living in the territories and in opposition to Israel’s recent reaction to violence in Jerusalem and its ongoing operations in Gaza.
During those riots, sectarian unrest erupted in many mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli towns, resulting in the burning of a Jewish-owned restaurant and a synagogue, the fatal shooting of an Arab man, and attacks on Arab-owned vehicles. In a rare action that exposed the tensions, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered border guard units to be mobilised to assist police in maintaining order.
There was no indication that either side were able to budge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to broaden the attack, stating that “this will take time.” Hamas has declared a full-fledged intifada, or insurrection. The most recent such rebellion started in 2000 and lasted for more than five years.
The most recent outbreak of violence started a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as the threatened displacement of scores of Palestinian families, sparked demonstrations and clashes with police. The Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, was a focal point.
In a big escalation, Hamas fired a volley of missiles at the city late Monday, pretending to be “defending Jerusalem.”
According to the Israeli military, rebels have launched 1,050 missiles since the fighting began, with 200 of them exploding and crashing inside Gaza. A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said two infantry brigades were deployed to the city, signalling plans for a potential land invasion.
Israel has bombed hundreds of targets in Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians have been subjected to a crushing Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas came to power in 2007.
The most powerful attack was a series of bombings that took down a 12-story hotel. The structure housed Hamas offices as well as several enterprises. Before demolishing the site, Israel fired a series of warning shots, allowing civilians to evacuate and resulting in no casualties.
Another Gaza City building was severely damaged by Israeli aircraft early Wednesday. According to Israel, the nine-story structure contained Hamas intelligence offices as well as the group’s command responsible for coordinating attacks on the occupied West Bank; it also housed private homes, medical firms, and a dental clinic. Before the bombing, a drone launched five warning missiles.
Since journalists and rescuers had collected, fighter jets attacked the house once more. There was no news on injuries right away. The high-rise was 200 metres (650 feet) away from the AP office in Gaza City, and smoke and debris made their way there.
Soon after, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing 100 missiles at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba in response.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said an airstrike on an apartment tower next door threw her through her bedroom in a “moment of panic.” She and her three daughters, ages three to fourteen, fled down the stairwell of their apartment building with other tenants, all of whom were shouting and weeping.
“In Gaza, there are almost no safe places,” she said.
According to witnesses who took the bodies to the hospital, one strike struck a taxi in Gaza City, killing a man, woman, and driver insider, and a second strike killed two men nearby on the highway. Several other spectators were injured, including a woman.
A 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday in the Israeli city of Lod when a rocket fired from Gaza landed in their courtyard.
The tumult in Jerusalem and the resulting battle come at a moment when the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process is almost non-existent.
It has been seven years since the two parties last held substantive talks. The peace process received little coverage in Israel’s political scene, and it was barely a topic in the country’s recent elections. Arab countries, including those that have recently signed normalisation agreements with Israel, seldom press for a solution.
As a result, nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem are trapped between Israeli occupation, accelerated Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, a weak Palestinian Authority that recently cancelled elections, and Hamas rule and the blockade that is impoverishing Gaza.
The unrest in Jerusalem has spread across Israel as a result of the demonstrations in Arab communities.
“An intifada has erupted in Lod; you must bring in the army,” said Yair Revivo, mayor of the central Israeli city. Strong riots erupted in Lod after thousands of mourners attended a funeral for an Arab man killed the night before by a Jewish gunman.
Since the Islamic jihadist group took power in Gaza from competing Palestinian groups, Israel and Hamas have waged three battles. The tensions were brought to an end when regional and foreign forces persuaded both sides to support an informal ceasefire.
Diplomats are once again attempting to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt, and the United Nations attempting to broker a cease-fire.
The United Nations Security Council has decided to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days on the worsening violence on Wednesday.
During the 2014 conflict, Israel was heavily chastised for targeting residential buildings in Gaza, one of several techniques that are currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has refused to cooperate with the investigation.
In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had acknowledged the outbreak of violence and “possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that created the court “with great concern.”
According to Conricus, the military spokesman, Israeli troops observe stringent codes of engagement, universal laws on armed conflict, and strive to avoid civilian casualties.
However, Israel has stated that it has no alternative since Hamas launches rockets from populated areas. International condemnation has also been levelled at Hamas for its indiscriminate missile attacks on Israeli population centres.