Hamas has launched rockets deeper into Israel after Israel’s defence minister vowed to continue the military operation in Gaza until “complete quiet” had been achieved.
Thousands of Israelis went into shelters early on Thursday after warning sirens sounded in the economic capital Tel Aviv in the middle of the country, but also in Jezreel Valley in the north, the first time it has happened since the unrest escalated this week, the army said. There was no immediate word of any casualties from the pre-dawn salvo.
“All of Israel is under attack. It’s a very scary situation to be in,” said Margo Aronovic, a 26-year-old student in Tel Aviv.
Israel continued carrying out airstrikes on Gaza early on Thursday, according to an Agence France-Presse journalist. Since Monday, the Israeli military has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, killing four senior Hamas commanders and a dozen more Hamas operatives. Two high-rise buildings containing flats and offices in Gaza City were targeted.
At least 67 people have now been killed in Gaza since the violence escalated on Monday, according to the enclave’s health ministry. Seven people have been killed in Israel, medical officials said.
As the crisis continues to spiral, US energy corporation Chevron said it had shut down the Tamar natural gas platform off the Israeli coast as a precaution. Israel said its energy needs would continue to be met.
At least two US airlines cancelled flights to Tel Aviv on Wednesday and Thursday. Israel, which briefly suspended operations at Ben Gurion airport on Monday after a rocket barrage on Tel Aviv, said national airline El Al stood ready to provide supplemental flights.
Thursday’s barrage on Tel Aviv prompted Israel to reroute an El Al flight from Brussels away from Ben Gurion, its intended destination, to Ramon airport in the south. It appeared to be the first time Israel had used Ramon as an alternative to Ben Gurion due to conflict. A flight was previously diverted there due to bad weather, according to aviation tracker Avi Scharf.
The latest unrest took place after US president, Joe Biden, spoke to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden voiced hope the recent upsurge in violence would soon end, saying: “My expectation and hope is this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself.”
Biden did not explain the reasons behind his optimism. Netanyahu’s office said he told the US president that Israel would “continue acting to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas and the other terrorist groups active in the Gaza Strip”.
Amid reports that Egyptian mediators were attempting to broker a deal to end the fighting, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, said: “Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm.”
US secretary of state, Tony Blinken, condemned the rocket attacks during a call with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Wednesday, and emphasised the need to de-escalate tensions, the US state department said. Abbas is a Hamas rival whose authority is limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hady Amr, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, is to travel to the region immediately to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders. A nominee for the empty post of US ambassador to Israel is to be made in the next few weeks, the White House said.
Since hostilities escalated on Monday evening, Hamas has fired around 1,500 rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, according to the latest estimate by Israel’s army. The launch of around 350 rockets had failed, while hundreds more were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system, the army said.
The Israeli military said earlier it had killed four senior Hamas commanders in a “complex and first-of-its-kind operation” jointly with the Shin Bet security service. The dead included Bassem Issa, the Gaza City Brigade commander, the head of the cyber-command and the head of Hamas’s production network, said a security agency statement.
“We eliminated senior Hamas commanders and this is just the beginning,” Netanyahu said. “We will inflict blows on them that they couldn’t even dream of.” The Israeli military would use “increasing force”, he added.
Amid the airstrikes and rocket fire, towns with mixed Jewish and Arab populations have been struck by some of the worst communal violence that Israel has seen in years.
Late on Wednesday a mob of far-right Israelis dragged a man they thought was an Arab from his car and beat him until he lay on the ground motionless and bloodied.
Footage of the attack in Bat Yam, a Tel Aviv suburb, was broadcast live on television but police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later, while the victim lay motionless on his back in the middle of the street.
With Reuters and Agence France-Presse