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Home World Israeli-Palestinian Hostilities Explode, With Waves of Mob Violence

Israeli-Palestinian Hostilities Explode, With Waves of Mob Violence


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Cross-border attacks continued on Wednesday, with the Israeli military conducting airstrikes and tank shelling against the Gaza Strip, while Hamas militants fired rockets into southern Israel.CreditCredit…Youssef Massoud/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An explosive new round of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza broadened with frightening speed on two fronts Wednesday, as waves of mob violence between Jews and Arabs spread across Israeli cities while rockets and missiles streaked overhead.

The Israeli Army and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, continued to exchange fire throughout the day. Israel claimed the assassinations of senior militants and pounded both military and residential areas across Gaza, the coastal enclave inhabited by roughly two million Palestinians.

An Israeli military official said three infantry brigades were “preparing for a worst-case scenario,” confirming that a ground invasion could follow the bombardment from the air.

The militants have fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel, most landing in civilian areas across central and southern Israel.

More than 50 Palestinians including at least 14 children have been killed, according to Gaza health authorities, since the hostilities intensified a few days ago, and in Israel the death toll reached at least seven people including a 6-year-old.

The exchange of rockets and missiles on Wednesday followed dozens of Israeli airstrikes overnight on the Gaza Strip, and several nighttime waves of rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Israel’s main international airport.

But the most shocking developments occurred on the streets of Israel, as rival Jewish and Arab mobs attacked cars, shops and people in several towns and cities.

One of the most chilling incidents occurred in Bat Yam, a seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv, where dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking an Arab motorcycle driver, even as his body lay motionless on the floor.

Another occurred in Acre, a northern coastal town, where an Arab mob beat a Jewish man with sticks and rocks, also leaving him in a critical condition.

The sudden turn of events, which escalated from an Israeli-Palestinian dispute in Jerusalem to full-scale aerial war over Gaza to widespread civil unrest in less than two days, shocked Israelis and Palestinians alike, and left some of the country’s most experienced leaders fearing that the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict was heading into new territory.

For years, there have been warnings that the festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories might cause longstanding grievances of the Palestinians to spread into the state of Israel itself, said Tzipi Livni, a veteran former cabinet minister.

“And this is exactly what is happening now,” said Ms. Livni, a former chief Israeli negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians that have been stalled for years. “What was maybe under the surface has now exploded, and created a combination that is really horrific.”

“I don’t want to use the words ‘civil war’,” Ms. Livni added. “But this is something that this is new, this is unbearable, this is horrific, and I’m very worried.”

The hostilities have united Palestinians in anger across disparate parts of the occupied territories and within Israel, where there has been major street unrest in Arab communities. They are venting frustration in part over the displacement of Palestinians from land in East Jerusalem and over longstanding discrimination.

Palestinian discontent has festered for years in the absence of peace talks between the two sides, and with little international pressure on Israel to compromiseor grant any concessions to Arabs living under occupation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was fighting on several fronts — one of them its own cities — and was responding with increasing force.

“We will continue the effort to stop the anarchy,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu vowed to restore order to Israel’s cities “with an iron fist if necessary, with all necessary force and with all necessary authority.”

Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israel’s latest operation targeted the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas and one of several Palestinian militant factions active in Gaza. The Israeli military said a joint operation of soldiers and intelligence officers across Gaza had simultaneously killed the commanders, who were close to Muhammed Deif, the leader of the Qassam Brigades.

Without Qassam’s soldiers, Hamas would struggle to control Gaza. Its leaders have long been the targets of Israeli assassinations, and Mr. Deif himself was wounded in one attempt in 2006.




Area of

extent

Mediterranean

Sea

The police raided

Al Aqsa Mosque

on Monday to

disperse crowds

and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip

Area of

extent

The police raided

Al Aqsa Mosque on

Monday to disperse

crowds and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Mediterranean

Sea

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip

Israeli forces and

Palestinian militants

exchanged hundreds

of strikes at multiple

locations in

Gaza and Israel.

Police raided Al Aqsa

Mosque on Monday to disperse crowds and protesters.

Area of

extent

The police raided Al Aqsa

Mosque on Monday

to disperse crowds

and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Mediterranean

Sea

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip


The violence was initially fueled by a police raid on an Islamic religious site in Jerusalem on Monday, which the police said was in response to stone-throwing by Palestinian demonstrators. By Tuesday, the conflict had broadened, with civilians on both sides paying a price. The speed of the escalation appeared to take Israelis by surprise.

President Biden said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” amid escalating fighting between Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday and asserted his “unwavering support” for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

“My hope is that we will see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later,” Mr. Biden said in response to questions from reporters.

According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Mr. Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and added that the United States’ position is that Jerusalem be “a place of peace.”

Mr. Biden also said that his administration’s national security and defense officials have been and would stay “in constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East. The White House added that, during the phone call, Mr. Biden updated Mr. Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with Palestinian officials and other nations in the Middle East.

The call between the two leaders came on the same day that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke over the phone with Mr. Netanyahu. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s self-defense in a phone conversation with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.

Arab Israelis during a funeral in the Israeli city of Lod on Tuesday.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The International Criminal Court’s main prosecutor said on Wednesday that she was closely watching Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, for potential new war crimes in the current conflict.

“I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute,” the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement. She was referring to the court’s statute on crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ms. Bensouda’s office said in March, before the latest conflict erupted, that it had begun an investigation into mutual accusations of war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. That decision, which infuriated Israeli leaders, was largely welcomed by the Palestinian leadership and its supporters.

The court had already started a preliminary investigation six years earlier, on the heels of the 50-day Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014. It covers alleged crimes since June 13, 2014, shortly before the start of that fighting.

Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court, which is based in The Hague, and it has maintained that the court has no jurisdiction over the area in question. But the court ruled that its jurisdiction extended to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Ms. Bensouda said that her office would continue to monitor the situation and address “any matter that falls within its jurisdiction.” The prosecutor’s office will investigate all sides to assess whether there is individual criminal responsibility under the statute, she added.

“I echo the call from the international community for calm, restraint and a stop to the violence,” she added.

Violence is escalating in Gaza and Israel, with Israel carrying out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and militants in Gaza firing rockets into Israel.

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U.S. Envoy Headed to Middle East

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. was concerned about the escalating conflict.

I want to just take a minute to discuss what’s happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We’re deeply concerned about what we’re seeing there. Images that came out overnight are harrowing, and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy. I’ve asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to go to the region immediately to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He will bring to bear his decades of experience. And in particular, he will urge on my behalf and on behalf of President Biden, a de-escalation of violence. We are very focused on this. The United States remains committed to a two-state solution. This violence takes us further away from that goal. We fully support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself. We’ve condemned and I condemn again, the rocket attacks in the strongest possible terms. We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security.

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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. was concerned about the escalating conflict.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Saul Loeb

A senior American diplomat is headed to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to urge de-escalation and to bring calm,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday amid mounting violence.

Speaking at the State Department in Washington, Mr. Blinken repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip.

“There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself,” Mr. Blinken said.

But he also said Israel “has an extra burden” to try to prevent civilian deaths, noting that Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli strikes.

“Whenever we see civilian casualties and, particularly, when we see children caught in the crossfire, losing their lives, that has a powerful impact,” said Mr. Blinken, sounding anguished. He added: “The Palestinian people have the right to safety and security, and we have to, I think, all work in that direction.”

Mr. Blinken said he was deploying Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in coming days. Mr. Amr was expected to depart Washington later Wednesday for the region.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III also offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to self-defense during a conversation earlier Wednesday with Israel’s defense chief, Benny Gantz.

A readout of their talk, issued by John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Mr. Austin had condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas, and urged calm among all parties, but did not mention the matter of casualties among Palestinian civilians.

President Biden took office this year with little interest in pursuing an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, given the failure by previous presidents from both parties to foster a lasting accord. But the latest outbreak of violence has prompted growing calls from within the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to play a more active role.

The Biden administration has endorsed of a two-state solution but, experts said, has made little effort to push the parties toward one.

“The problem with the Middle East,” said Martin S. Indyk, a special envoy for Israel-Palestinian negotiations during the Obama administration, “is that you can try to turn your back on it, but it won’t turn its back on you.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken repeated anew that the United States remains committed to a two-state solution. “This violence takes us further away from that goal,” he said.

Mr. Blinken later said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to reinforce his message. “It’s vital now to de-escalate,” Mr. Blinken said on Twitter.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

The Tamar Platform, left, is about 12 miles away from the Gaza Strip.
Credit…Ahikam Seri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With fighting raging between Israel and Palestinian groups, Chevron, the American energy giant, said Wednesday that it had shut down a major offshore natural gas facility in the eastern Mediterranean on orders from the Israeli government.

“In accordance with instructions received from the Ministry of Energy, we have shut-in and depressurized the Tamar Platform,” Chevron said in a statement.

The company said that it was continuing to supply customers through another platform in Israeli waters called Leviathan that also processes gas from an offshore field.

Chevron acquired a 25 percent stake in the Tamar Platform and its gas field and wells through its $4 billion acquisition of Noble Energy last year.The deal was the first entry of a major Western oil company into exploration and production of oil and gas in Israeli waters.

The Tamar Platform is about 12 miles from the Gaza Strip, where militants have been launching rockets toward Israel and Israel has been aiming airstrikes. Leviathan is further away. The two gas facilities are major sources of fuel for the Israeli economy, especially for electric power generation.

In recent years the international oil industry has begun to consider the Eastern Mediterranean region as a potential major hub for natural gas. Israeli gas has also served to increase the country’s energy independence and strengthen economic ties with former enemies like Egypt and Jordan, which are customers for the fuel.

Last month Delek Drilling, one of Chevron’s Israeli partners, said that it had reached a preliminary agreement to sell its share of Tamar to Mubadala Petroleum, an arm of the government of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for around $1 billion. The United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords signed in August.

“This is an area that looks as if it could have the resource quality and the scale to become a pretty significant energy province,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive, in an interview last year.

The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City.
Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

With dozens dead and hundreds injured, the initial two days of the renewed conflict brought fear and loss to millions in Gaza and Israel, but the escalating crisis has bolstered the political fortunes of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

A senior political leader for Hamas struck a triumphant tone on Tuesday over how rapidly the clashes in Jerusalem on Monday had expanded into a broader problem for Israel, as it faced rocket attacks from Gaza that threatened Israeli cities.

“We have managed to create an equation linking the Jerusalem and Gaza fronts,” the leader, Ismail Haniya, said in a speech recorded in Qatar and aired on a Hamas-affiliated television channel. “They are inseparable. Jerusalem and Gaza are one.”

Since coming to power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has lost popularity because of what many Gazans see as its authoritarian approach and poor governance.

For Hamas, the conflict has allowed it to revitalize its claims to the leadership of Palestinian resistance and has framed its rocket attacks as a direct response to the Israeli police raids on the Aqsa Mosque compound, a religious site in East Jerusalem. In the process, the group presented itself as a protector of Palestinian protesters and worshipers in the city.

For Mr. Netanyahu, the conflict — along with the divisions it fosters among the opposition parties currently negotiating a coalition to topple him from power — has given him half a chance of remaining prime minister, just days after it seemed as if he might be on the way out.

“It is the story of every previous war between Israel and Hamas,” said Ghassan Khatib, a politics expert at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. Both governments “come out of it victorious, and the public of Gaza comes out of it as losers.”

Hamas said that a number of its militants in Gaza had been killed and that others had been reported missing in an Israeli attack.

The Israeli military said that its Gaza targets had included the weapons manufacturing sites of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, as well as military facilities and two tunnels. A Hamas battalion commander who was at home in a residential apartment building was also targeted, according to the military.

Neither the location nor the condition of the person said to be a battalion commander was immediately clear. But Gaza health officials said that the bodies of three civilians had been removed from the ruins of the building.

Two of them — Amira Soboh, 58, and her son Abdelrahman, 17, who had cerebral palsy — were said to be members of a family living three floors below the apartment of the person alleged to be a commander. They were killed by falling rubble, said Ms. Soboh’s older son, Osama Soboh.

Mr. Soboh, a 31-year-old civil servant, questioned why Israel had targeted a civilian building. “It’s not a military barracks — it’s not posing any danger to Israel,” he said. “This was an old woman with a child with cerebral palsy.”

Israeli security forces deployed at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Monday.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The latest outburst of violence in the Middle East erupted after weeks of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians around the Old City of Jerusalem and particularly at the Aqsa Mosque compound — one of Islam’s holiest sites and a frequent flash point of Israeli-Arab clashes.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has cast itself as the Palestinian defender of the contested city of Jerusalem. It has issued threats and ultimatums demanding that the Israeli police withdraw from the site and release any protesters who were arrested.

On Monday, the Israeli police raided the mosque compound to disperse crowds and stone-throwing protesters with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-tipped bullets. More than 330 Palestinians were wounded, at least three critically, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. At least 21 police officers were wounded.

The Aqsa Mosque, in the heart of the Old City, is part of an internationally recognized heritage site sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews. The site, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, has been a flash point between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1967 war, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, from Jordan.

The compound, home to two ancient temples, is Judaism’s holiest site. The first temple was built by King Solomon, according to the Bible, and was later destroyed by the Babylonians. The second stood for nearly 600 years before the Roman Empire destroyed it in the first century.

An Islamic trust run by Jordan administers the site, as it did before the 1967 war. But the Israelis control access to the site, and religious tensions have occasionally exploded into violence there.

In 1990, deadly riots erupted after a group of Jewish extremists sought, unsuccessfully, to lay a cornerstone for a temple to replace the two destroyed in ancient times.

In 2000, a visit to the site by the right-wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister, led to an angry Palestinian backlash that swelled into their second uprising, or Intifada.

In 2017, a deadly shooting at the site led the Israeli authorities to restrict access and install metal detectors, enraging Muslim worshipers and causing a crisis with Jordan. The crisis eased after Israel dismantled the extra security.

Protesters gathered outside the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Credit…Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the new chapter of deadly Israeli-Palestinian strife escalated on Wednesday and reverberated around the world, nations reacted with words of caution and condemnation, some accusing Israel of disproportionate use of force, and others defending Israel’s right to defend itself.

In some Gulf nations that have taken major steps toward normalizing relations with Israel in recent months, condemnation of the country’s airstrikes on Gaza was widespread.

But the easing of relations between Israel and these countries was the result of years of negotiations, and the nations appeared to be carefully balancing their new relationships with Israel with their previous support — in words, at least, if not always in deeds — for the Palestinian cause.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates — which is among those nations that have moved toward normalizing relations — urged caution.

The prince spoke about “the importance of putting an end to all aggressions and practices that exacerbate tension and wrath in the sacred city” of Jerusalem, according to The Associated Press. He held meetings Tuesday with the Bahraini crown prince and prime minister of Jordan.

The former Emirati foreign minister and current diplomatic adviser to the country’s president, Anwar Gargash, was more direct.

“The Emirates stands with the rights of the Palestinians and with ending the Israeli occupation and with an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said on Twitter. “This is a fundamental, non-negotiable stance.”

The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia, which has not normalized relations with Israel, said on Twitter on Tuesday that it condemned “in the strongest terms the blatant attacks carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The ministry went on to call for holding “the Israeli occupation responsible for this escalation, and to immediately stop its escalatory actions, which violate all international norms and laws.”

In some cities, protests were held on Tuesday night.

In Kuwait, protesters gathered outside the Parliament building and blocked streets as they rallied against Israel’s actions, according to local reports and pictures from the scene posted on social media.

In Istanbul, there were also protests against the airstrikes on Tuesday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in a message on his Telegram channel, said he had spoken to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and to a senior Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniya, by phone.

Mr. Erdogan said he had condemned the attacks and promised he would “do what we can do to make the whole world act, primarily the Islamic world, to stop the terror and invasion from Israel.’’

In Germany, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza. Steffen Seibert, a government spokesman, said the thousands of rockets fired into Israeli territory had indiscriminately harmed civilians.

“Nothing justifies this violence,” he said. “Israel has a right to defend itself against these attacks.”

Officials of the United Nations beseeched both sides to stop the fighting. Tor Wennesland, the world body’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in a Twitter post that the situation was “escalating towards a full-scale war.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides extensive services to Palestinians registered as refugees in the Israeli-occupied territories and elsewhere in the Middle East, also called for an immediate halt to the hostilities. Gazan students who attend the agency’s schools were among those killed.

“Children are and must be protected under International Law and those responsible for breaching their obligations must be held fully accountable,” the agency said in a statement.

It called on the combatants “to exercise maximum restraint and comply with their obligations under International Law in the strictest terms, including with regard to protecting the inherent right to life of children.”

Ambassadors from European members of the United Nations Security Council read out a joint statement exhorting the antagonists to stand down.

“We express our grave concern regarding the escalation in and around Gaza and the upsurge in violence in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, as well as in Israel,” they said. “We urgently call upon all actors to de-escalate tensions, end violence and show the utmost restraint.”

Until recently, Egypt was one of the few Arab countries with formal diplomatic ties to both the Palestinians and the Israelis, and it has played a role in mediating between the two sides in previous conflicts over Gaza. Now it has once again become a channel for defusing tensions, with Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, telling a meeting of the Arab League on Tuesday that Egypt had reached out to Israel and other “concerned countries” to try to calm the violence.

Those efforts had not succeeded, he added.

On Wednesday, the foreign ministry said in a statement that Mr. Shoukry had spoken by phone to his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, and “stressed the necessity of stopping Israeli assaults on Palestinian territories.”

Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv. Three U.S. airlines have already announced cancellations.
Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Airlines in the United States have started to cancel flights to Israel as the violence escalates.

United Airlines said it had canceled flights from Chicago and Newark to Tel Aviv on Tuesday and from San Francisco and Newark to Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Citing the unrest, the carrier said it would also waive change fees for customers booked on flights to or from Tel Aviv through May 25.

American Airlines said it had canceled one flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to Tel Aviv on Wednesday and another making the return trip on Thursday. The airline said it would waive fees in some circumstances for customers with flights to Tel Aviv scheduled through May 25.

Delta Air Lines said it, too, had canceled one flight in each direction between Kennedy Airport and Tel Aviv on Wednesday. A spokesman said the airline was “monitoring the situation” and had not decided when flights would resume.

The airline issued a travel waiver on Tuesday for customers booked on flights to or from Tel Aviv between Tuesday and Thursday.

In a statement on its website on Wednesday, El Al, the Israeli national airline, said flights would continue to operate as scheduled but that customers with travel booked before May 19 may reschedule without paying change fees.

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