Israel-Palestine conflict: Killing of Hamas officers ‘just the beginning’, warns prime minister

Ireland must ask ‘hard questions’ regarding respect for international law, says Coveney

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas continue to escalate, with at least 35 killed in Gaza and five in Israel in the most intensive aerial exchanges in years. Video: Reuters

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Heavy rocket fire at Tel Aviv and central Israel resumed on Wednesday night after another day of intense fighting between Israel and Gaza militants. Rocket fire into Israel continued despite the incessant pounding of Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets by the Israeli army.

After a number of leading Hamas officers were reportedly killed, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that the operations in Gaza would continue. “We eliminated senior Hamas commanders and this is just the beginning,” he said. “We will inflict blows on them that they couldn’t even dream of.”

Israel launched its military action on Monday after Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, fired rockets in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians in East Jerusalem at the weekend.

Israel has launched more than 600 attacks on Gaza targets since the exchanges began. Some 1,200 rockets fired by militants have reached Israel.

More than 50 Palestinians have been killed, including 14 children and three women, and more than 300 Palestinians have been injured. In Israel six people have been killed, including a care worker from India.

The Israeli army spokesperson said the co-ordinated strikes in Gaza city and Khan Yunis killed 15 top commanders in Hamas’s military leadership who were associated with its weapons development and production efforts.

Israel also destroyed more high-rise tower blocs after warning the residents in advance to leave. Earlier, Hamas operatives fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli jeep on the Gaza border, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

International law

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney criticised both sides in the conflict on Wednesday and said Ireland must “ask the hard questions as to whether international law is being respected here”.

“We know that Hamas aren’t respecting international law, but that doesn’t justify the Israeli Defence Force in targeting Hamas targets in Gaza knowingly and accepting the killing of innocent civilians and children,” he said on RTÉ radio’s Drivetime programme.

He said Israel would rightly claim that it had a right to defend itself, “but even a state defending itself has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure civilian population and children are not killed in the act of defending their own citizens”.

The US blocked a UN Security Council statement on the situation on Wednesday, arguing it would further inflame tensions.

Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike on targets in Gaza City. Photograph:Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty
Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike on targets in Gaza City. Photograph:Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty

The intensity and tempo of the current escalation is much greater than the previous rounds between the sides. Every time Israel destroys a high-rise building in Gaza, the militant groups respond almost immediately with massive salvos of rockets into Israel.

Egypt has urged Israel to refrain from a ground incursion – but there are no signs that such an invasion into the densely populated enclave is imminent.

The US is sending an envoy to the region and Egypt has also indicated a willingness to mediate but Israel does not appear ready to halt the fighting at this juncture. Schools in central and southern Israel were ordered closed for the rest of the week in a further indication that the conflict will continue.

Riots

The violence has also engulfed the Israeli Arab community, with fierce riots erupting in a number of Arab communities and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns such as Lod and Ramle, in the centre of the country, and Acre in the north.

The worst flashpoint was Lod, where gangs of Arab youths attacked Jewish residents and motorists and torched a synagogue. A Jewish resident who shot and killed one of the Arab rioters told police he believed his life was in danger.

Religious Jews managed to save the Torah scrolls from the synagogue that was torched in a scene many described as similar to Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938.

There have been protests and clashes involving Israeli Arabs in the past but never on this scale. “This is a complete loss of control,” Lod mayor Yair Revivo said. “Civil war has erupted in Lod.”

The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a night-time curfew, diverting border police units from the West Bank to restore calm.

The spreading of the violence to the Israeli Arab community, even if only a small minority took part in the riots, was seen as another propaganda victory for Hamas.

Alex Fishman, the military correspondent for Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, predicted that unless the army’s “achievements significantly outpaced those of Hamas, the fighting would only worsen.

“It is clear to top military officials that it isn’t only Hamas that is looking at the army’s performance, but Hizbullah, the Syrians and the Iranians as well. Scoring a significant achievement isn’t just a matter of national pride; it is a strategic necessity.”

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