Israel and Hamas continued to trade fire on Wednesday as the worst fighting between the sides in years showed no signs of abating and fears grew of a “full-scale war.”
Israel has struck a range of targets in the Gaza Strip as part of its airstrike response to the more than 1,000 rockets Palestinian militants have launched towards its territory since Monday.
The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said the number of Palestinians killed has risen to 53, including 15 children, while some 320 people were reported injured.
Around 850 of the missiles launched by Palestinian forces were intercepted or went down in Israel, while some 200 misfired and landed in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli military.
Hamas’ military wing said 15 rockets were fired in the direction of the Israeli desert city of Dimona, where an Israeli nuclear reactor is located. The complex, however, is considered to be extremely well protected.
Israel’s military said it was responding to the barrage of rockets fired up and down its territory with the most comprehensive bombardment of the Gaza Strip since a clash between the two sides in 2014.
Five people in Israel have died due to rocket blasts, and more than 200 have been injured, the Israel Defense Forces said.
“Stop the fire immediately,” UN Special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland tweeted.
“We’re escalating towards a full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation. The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people.”
The cross-border attacks between Israel and the Palestinians has also spilled into the streets.
The town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, saw major rioting overnight, with police confirming early Wednesday that a man and a teen were killed.
According to local media, Arab residents desecrated a synagogue and set it on fire. Dozens of cars were set alight and windows of stores were smashed. The mayor of Lod called it a “civil war.”
Police said that a man and a teenager were killed in Lod.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin strongly condemned the riots as a “brutal attack on coexistence in the state of Israel.”
“The sight of the pogrom in Lod and the riots throughout the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob that injures people, destroys property and even attacks holy Jewish sites is unforgivable,” Rivlin said in a statement released by his office.
The Arab minority in Israel makes up about 20 per cent of the population of 9 million. They face discrimination, and right-wing politicians often portray them as enemies of the Jewish state.
In Gaza, the Israeli army said that at least 20 members of the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant organizations were killed, including senior officials.
The air force said it had destroyed the house of a senior Hamas member in the Gaza Strip. The house had also served as a weapons cache.
Israeli airstrikes have destroyed all police buildings in the Gaza Strip, a spokesperson for the Hamas-led Interior Ministry said early on Wednesday.
Israel also destroyed two multi-storey buildings in the Gaza Strip. According to reports, they contained offices of senior Hamas members. The buildings also housed Arabic media outlets.
Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was temporarily closed for landings and departures because of the rocket fire. Many schools are also closed in Israel.
The airstrikes and rocket attacks followed violent clashes in recent days at the Jerusalem holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the military operation “will take time, but we will bring security back to the citizens of Israel.”
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said there was no end date for the current operation.
China, Russia, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and host of other nations have called on all sides to show restraint.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet for an emergency session on Wednesday for the second time in a few days. (dpa/NAN)