Netanyahu vows to intensify attacks as Israel-Gaza violence spirals

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip throughout Tuesday, as Israel hammered the coastal territory with airstrikes and the death toll mounted.

More than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in the last day, including children. Three Israelis died from rocket fire from Gaza on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attacks on Gaza, which have targeted some 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions since Monday, would intensify.

“This operation will take time, but we will bring security back to the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu vowed late Tuesday.

An Israeli military spokesperson said that at least 20 members from the two groups have been killed so far in Gaza, including senior officials, and some 150 missile-launchers had been destroyed.

Hamas will not pull back from the escalation, the militant organization’s spokesman in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum said in a press statement, adding that “if Israel strikes, the armed resistance strikes back.”

The greater Tel Aviv area was in the cross-hairs of Palestinian militants’ rockets throughout Tuesday. Flights at Israel’s main flight gateway, Ben Gurion Airport outside of the city, were halted.

In Lod, near that airport, Palestinian militants set a synagogue ablaze, according to reports. Earlier a 25-year-old Arab man was shot and killed during rioting there. A 34-year-old arrested after the event was a Jewish resident of the city, media reported.

In total, Gaza militants aimed around 480 rockets towards Israel over 24 hours. Of these, some 200 were intercepted and 150 failed to properly launch, the Israeli military said Tuesday evening.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it said were in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on a high-rise residential building in the western part of the Gaza Strip. The apartment belonged to a member of Islamic Jihad, according to witnesses.

According to media reports, a woman was killed in the Israeli town of Rishon Lezion when she was hit directly. In the southern city of Ashkelon two women were killed when their homes were struck, according to the Zaka aid organization.

The Gaza Health Ministry put the death toll among Palestinians in the latest round of violence at 32, including a woman and 10 children. More than 220 people were injured, said health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra.

The airstrikes and rocket attacks followed violent clashes in recent days at Jerusalem’s holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.

Tension between Israelis and Palestinians has escalated since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April. Ramadan ends this week.

Hamas had issued a Monday night ultimatum telling Israel to withdraw settlers and police from the Jerusalem holy site, parts of which had been cordoned off, and from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Shortly after the deadline expired, mass rocket attacks began.

Netanyahu said militants crossed a “red line” by directing missiles towards Jerusalem, and Israel in turn shelled targets in Gaza.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined world leaders in urging restraint. “This spiralling escalation must cease immediately,” his spokesperson said.

The UN Security Council will meet in New York Wednesday morning to discuss the violence. UN special envoy for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, will brief the council behind closed doors.

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