At least 10 Palestinians killed as Gaza conflict spreads to West Bank
Hamas leader says militant group ready for ceasefire but Israel plans to continue fighting
Violence erupted across the West Bank on Friday with at least 10 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli troops. The West Bank, ruled by president Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, had been relatively quiet since the confict in Gaza erupted earlier this week.
Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, lauded the West Bank clashes, urging Palestinians there to “set the ground ablaze under the feet of the [Israeli] occupation”.
The quiet on Israel’s northern border also came to an end. Israeli troops opened fire on Friday at pro-Palestinian protesters on the Lebanese border. Reports in Lebanon said one protester was killed. On Thursday night three rockets fired from Lebanon landed in the Mediterranean Sea off Israel’s northern coastline.
Friday saw a decline in the number of rockets fired into Israel after some of the heaviest pounding by Israeli forces of suspected militant targets in Gaza since the fighting began on Monday.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reports that at least 115 Palestinians have been killed and another 600 injured. Israel maintains that the large majority of the fatalities are either Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.
An 87-year-old Israeli woman died after she suffered head injuries while running to a shelter on Friday – the eighth person killed in Israel.
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal said the organisation was ready for a ceasefire. US official Hady Amr has arrived in Tel Aviv for truce talks but Israel has indicated that it still not ready to stop the fighting.
The current hostilities began on Monday with a massive rocket salvo from Gaza aimed at the Jerusalem area, following days of clashes in Israel’s capital, including around the Al-Aqsa mosque in the old city. Palestinian anger was fuelled by plans to expel residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for Jewish families.
The situation in Gaza looks set to deteriorate further with fuel expected to run out in a day or two, which would bring an end to electricity supplies.
The Israeli assessment is that early next week international pressure will mount for an end to hostilities and the Israeli leadership will soon have to make a decision on how to end the fighting.
Israel has drafted army reservists and soldiers have been deployed to staging positions close to the Gaza border, but a ground incursion into the densely populated enclave remains unlikely.
In a deliberate ruse overnight on Thursday by the Israeli military to create the impression of a ground invasion, tanks moved towards the Gaza border with lights on. At the same time an Israeli army spokesman announced that “air and ground forces are now attacking the Gaza Strip”, prompting a number of foreign media outlets to report the beginning of a ground incursion.
Militant fighters deployed to frontline lookouts and anti-tank and mortar units took up positions to thwart the reported Israeli advance while others headed for tunnels.
About 160 Israeli fighter jets and drones then launched the heaviest attack of the current campaign, targeting the advanced militant units along with what the Israeli army calls “The Metro” – a massive chain of combat tunnels constructed to allow the militants to move covertly without being spotted from the air.
Inside Israel the Gaza operation has provided the catalyst for the worst communal clashes in the country’s history. Following a massive police deployment incidents of violence appear to be declining but it may take many years to repair the damage, particularly in mixed cities such as Jerusalem, Lod, Haifa and Acre where the two communities live side by side.