Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have locked themselves into an escalating firefight, launching scores of bombings and reprisal attacks in violence sparked by a botched Israeli special forces raid miles inside Gaza on Sunday evening, The Guardian reports.
The United Nations and Egypt, which works as an interlocutor between Israeland Gaza’s Hamas rulers, were struggling in vain to broker a ceasefire, as Israeli civilians hid overnight in shelters from relentless rocket barrages and Palestinians cowered in basements from thundering airstrikes.
Israel’s military said about 400 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gazasince Monday afternoon, possibly the highest concentration launched in such a period from the enclave, and its warplanes had carried out more than 100 bombings.
Medics in Gaza said five people had been killed, two of whom were militants. In the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a 40-year-old civilian was killed when a rocket hit a building. It was later revealed that the man was a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank living in Israel. Twenty Israelis have been wounded in the latest bloodshed.
Israel and Hamas have traded tit-for-tat attacks regularly during the past few months, often when Hamas launches rockets in response to Israeli army fire on weekly protests at the frontier – where Palestinians have been calling for an end to the blockade – or on Hamas positions afterwards.
This latest violence, the most intense to date, erupted following Sunday’s Israeli raid. After being exposed at a militant checkpoint, the covert team killed a Hamas commander and fled in a helicopter, witnesses said. Seven Hamas fighters and an Israeli lieutenant colonel were killed in the chaos. Within hours, militants had launched rockets in response.
The extent of the attacks has also been ratcheted up. Israel has previously focused on Hamas military positions in open areas but, by Tuesday, residents said three large residential buildings inside densely populated neighbourhoods of Gaza city were now rubble.
Jets had bombed Hamas’s main internal security compound in Gaza but the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) also said it had blown up sites used for civilian purposes, such as a Hamas-run television building and a structure it said was used for military purposes but also housed a kindergarten.
Residents in Gaza reported Israel was launching low-yield munition warning strikes, what locals call “roof knocks”, on targets before bombing them. This gives civilians several minutes to clear the structure before it is destroyed, and may account for the relatively low fatality count.
Shahira al-Rayes, 39, was asleep at home with her husband and two children in Gaza City when she was awakened by her neighbours, crying out that they had heard a “knock” on the building next door.
“When the building was bombed, we felt death. My children and I screamed and screamed,” she said by phone. “After we realised that the shelling was over, I went up to my apartment, trying hard to calm my children and get them back to sleep. I could not sleep until morning.”
In Ashkelon, north of Gaza, Revital Steinberg, a school counsellor, said she had slept in the living room with her daughters, eight and 11, to be closer to their fortified safe room.
“We pretended to camp in the living room. It was like a game,” she said. “The night was terrible. My 11-year-old was really worried about her classmates, messaging them on WhatsApp to try and calm and relax them.” But she added: “It’s not something you can get used to.”