Israel threatens Gaza ground invasion despite truce efforts

Israel_Palestinians_58109 An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_16440 Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept rockets fired from Gaza Strip, near Sderot, Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_84637 Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Weary Palestinians are somberly marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas and Israel traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_19785 Friends and relatives of Israeli soldier Omer Tabib, 21, mourn during his funeral at the cemetery in the northern Israeli town of Elyakim, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The Israeli army confirmed that Tabib was killed in an anti-tank missile attack near the Gaza Strip, the first Israeli military death in the current fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_19003 Relatives of Israeli soldier Omer Tabib, 21, mourn during his funeral at the cemetery in the northern Israeli town of Elyakim, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The Israeli army confirmed that Tabib was killed in an anti-tank missile attack near the Gaza Strip, the first Israeli military death in the current fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel_Palestinians_96239 An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_46358 Members of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after being hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_82270 Julianna Sror looks at the damage to her apartment after being hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_10921 A member of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after being hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_73504 Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed 15 story building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
A worshipper chants slogan during a pro-Palestinian demonstration after Eid al Fitr prayers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
Worshippers carry a banner with Palestinian flag during a pro-Palestinian demonstration after Eid al Fitr prayers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
Worshippers attend a pro-Palestinians demonstration after their Eid al Fitr prayers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
A cleric chants slogan during a pro-Palestinian demonstration after Eid al Fitr prayers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
A worshipper waves a Palestinian flag during a demonstration after Eid al Fitr prayers in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Palestinians_Israel_27998 Mourners chant Islamic slogans while carrying the body of Awad Abu Selmiya, during a funeral of thirteen Hamas militants outside a mosque in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of airstrikes.
Israel_Palestinians_53267 A picture and broken frame lay in the debris in an apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_14380 Israeli soldier arms artillery shells next to an artillery unit at the Israeli Gaza border, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_08478 A Palestinian man looks at the destruction of a building hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
A girl is tossed into the air as people gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City ofJerusalem, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Eid al-Fitr, festival of breaking of the fast, marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_55708 Members of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_57983 Muslims take part in Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Eid al-Fitr, festival of breaking of the fast, marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Members of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_53304 Palestinians inspect their destroyed home after being hit by Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
Members of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_73602 Palestinians inspect the rubble of their destroyed homes after being targeted by Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
Members of Sror family inspect the damage of their apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip over night, in Petah Tikva, central Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
A Palestinian youth performs a back flip at the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem as people gather for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Thursday, May 13, 2021.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_06642 A girl is tossed into the air as people gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Eid al-Fitr, festival of breaking of the fast, marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Israeli airstrikes killed multiple senior Hamas military figures Wednesday and toppled a pair of high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities.
Rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Israeli airstrikes killed multiple senior Hamas military figures Wednesday and toppled a pair of high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_37199 Israeli security forces and paramedics carry a wounded Jewish man after he was shot during violent unrest in Lod, Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The man was shot, allegedly by an Arab man, during violent clashes between Jews and Arabs in the central city of Lod, Israeli media reported.
Israel_Palestinians_09810 Palestinians rescuers search in the rubble for missing members of the Al-Tanani family, after their house was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_18944 Israeli soldier arms artillery shells next to an artillery unit at the Israeli Gaza border, Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Israel_Palestinians_94862 Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The four-day burst of violence has pushed Israel into uncharted territory — dealing with the most intense fighting it has ever had with Hamas while simultaneously coping with the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades.
APTOPIX_Israel_Palestinians_56538 Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Friday, May 14, 2021. Early Friday, the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet. Masses of red flames illuminated the skies as the deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday said it was massing troops along the Gaza frontier and calling up 9,000 reservists ahead of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled territory, as the two bitter enemies plunged closer to all-out war. Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire efforts but showed no signs of progress.

The stepped-up fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod. The fighting took place despite a bolstered police presence ordered by the nation’s leaders.

The four-day burst of violence has pushed Israel into uncharted territory — dealing with the most intense fighting it has ever had with Hamas while simultaneously coping with the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades. A late-night barrage of rocket fire from Lebanon that landed in the sea threatened to open a new front along Israel’s northern border.

Saleh Aruri, an exiled senior Hamas leader, told London-based satellite channel Al Araby early Friday that his group has turned down a proposal for a three-hour lull to allow for more negotiations toward a full cease-fire. He said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.

Also early Friday, the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet. Masses of red flames illuminated the skies as the deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake. The strikes were so strong that screams of fear could be heard from people inside the city, several kilometers away.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas, claiming to be the defender of Jerusalem, fired a barrage of long-range rockets toward the city in response to what it said were Israeli provocations. Israel quickly responded with a series of airstrikes.

Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza. The strikes set off scores of earth-shaking explosions across the densely populated territory. Gaza militants have fired nearly 2,000 rockets into Israel, bringing life in the southern part of the country to a standstill. Several barrages targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) away.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 109 Palestinians, including 28 children and 15 women, with 621 people wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”

He said the goal now is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers.” He called the effort a “a work in progress.”

Thursday’s visit by Egyptian officials marked an important step in the cease-fire efforts.

Egypt often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, and it has been a key player in ending past rounds of fighting. The officials met first with Hamas leaders in Gaza before holding talks with Israelis in Tel Aviv, two Egyptian intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was also in touch with the Egyptians, the group said.

Despite those efforts, the fighting only intensified. Israeli aircraft pummeled targets in Gaza throughout the day. And late Thursday, Israel fired tank and artillery shells across the border for the first time, sending scores of terrified residents fleeing for safety.

The airstrikes have destroyed scores of buildings, including three high rises. Israel says the buildings housed Hamas militants or facilities, but civilians were inside as well.

In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced the building to rubble, residents said.

Sadallah Tanani, a relative, said the family was “wiped out from the population register” without warning. “It was a massacre. My feelings are indescribable,” he said.

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties in Gaza fighting. It says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by hiding and launching rockets from civilian areas.

Late Thursday, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the mobilization of an additional 9,000 reservists.

The chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said troops were massing along the Gaza border for a possible ground operation. He said tanks, armored vehicles and artillery were being prepared “for mobilization at any given moment.”

Hamas showed no signs of backing down. It launched several intense barrages of rockets throughout the day and fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) into southern Israel. The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at the southern Ramon airport. Hamas also launched a drone that Israel said it quickly shot down.

Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, saying any invasion would be a chance “to increase our catch” of dead or captive soldiers.

The fighting cast a pall over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, normally marked by family gatherings and festive meals. Instead, the streets of Gaza were mostly empty.

Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by but acknowledged “there is no atmosphere” for celebrating. “It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”

The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point of clashes was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims.

Israel regards Jerusalem in its entirety as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.

The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel resulted in scenes not witnessed in more than two decades.

The confrontations erupted again late Thursday. Jewish and Arab mobs battled in the central city of Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, for a fourth consecutive night, despite a state of emergency and heavy police presence. A Jewish man was shot and seriously wounded, and Israeli media said a second Jewish man was shot.

In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.

The fighting deepened a political crisis that has sent Israel careening through four inconclusive elections in just two years. After March elections, Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition. Now his political rivals have three weeks to try to do so.

Those efforts have been greatly complicated by the fighting. His opponents include a broad range of parties that have little in common. They would need the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he cannot negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, leader of a small right-wing party, was quoted as saying he did not believe an alternate coalition could be formed in the current atmosphere.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is leading the coalition-building efforts, said the country was facing an “existential threat” and urged Bennett to join him to help rescue the country.

“We are on the brink of the abyss,” he said.

___

Akram reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem, Samy Magdy in Cairo, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Ashraf Sweilam in al-Arish, Egypt, also contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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