Israel has warned that it will not consider a ceasefire with the Palestinians until there is ‘total, long-term quiet’, as it continued to bombard Gaza with air strikes.
Boris Johnson was among the world leaders who pleaded for both sides to ‘step back from the brink’ on Wednesday, but Israeli and Palestinian rhetoric ramped up as the two sides continued to exchange missile fire.
With the situation ‘hurtling towards all-out war’, the death toll rose again and another residential tower block in Gaza was flattened by Israeli bombings.
Hamas said it had fired a volley of 130 rockets – which killed a six-year-old boy in southern Israel and set off air raid warnings up to Tel Aviv – in response to the destruction of Gaza City’s 14-storey Al-Sharouk tower.
The tower spewed black smoke from bright embers following the strike, which came after another huge building was levelled in a bombing on Tuesday.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a ‘moment of horror’ by an air strike on an apartment tower next door.
She and her children, aged three to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
‘There is almost no safe place in Gaza,’ she said amid the bloodshed.
People in Gaza have been battered by relentless air strikes, with hundreds people wounded in the scenes of devastation and bloodshed.
Despite calls from the international community for calm, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned ‘this is just the beginning’, while Hamas called for an all-out infitada (uprising).
‘We’ll hit them like they’ve never dreamed possible,’ Mr Netanyahu warned, defying international pleas for calm.
His defence secretary Benny Gantz had said Israel would not stop its attacks until there was ‘total, long-term quiet’, dampening hopes of any imminent end to the fighting.
There are fears that Israel could launch a ground offensive.
Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh added: ‘The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.’
The organisation said several of its top commanders have been killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa.
In Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.
British PM Mr Johnson was among those pleading for calm.
He said: ‘I am urging Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the brink and for both sides to show restraint.
‘The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions.’
Gaza militants have launched roughly 1,200 rockets since Monday, according to Israel’s army, which has carried out more than 350 air strikes on the crowded coastal enclave.
It claims to be targeting military positions, but scores of civilians and children have been killed and wounded.
At least 65 people have been killed in Gaza, including 16 children. Israel says seven people have died there, including a soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.
The fighting is now the most intense in seven years after being triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
The last intifada also began with violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque, in 2000, and lasted more than five years.
The latest fighting has taken on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, but with a new factor: Israel’s Palestinian citizens have come out in support of those living in the territories, as well as counter-violence by Jewish Israelis.
Mr Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where a synagogue and other Jewish property has been torched and an Arab resident was shot dead.
There are concerns around widening civil unrest, with Arab-Jewish violence breaking out in several mixed communities.
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