Overnight, Israel ramped up its attacks on Gaza, launching the heaviest land, sea, and air bombardment yet, amid fears of a ground invasion as thousands of troops were deployed to the border.
According to the IDF over 1,000 bombs and shells were dropped on northern and eastern Gaza by helicopters, jets, gunboats, and artillery overnight Thursday, which said it had carried out a “complex” operation to destroy Hamas tunnels.
When the IDF announced shortly after midnight that ground forces were ‘attacking’ Gaza, and later suggested that boots were on the ground, there was confusion and panic. However, a spokesman later clarified that military operations were carried out along the border, but that no Israeli troops had crossed it.
However, with Israeli troops stationed along the border, 9,000 reservists called up, and residents told to flee their homes along the border, the threat of invasion looms large. Any invasion would be a major step up in the violence, with the death toll – which currently stands at 119 Palestinians and nine Israelis – likely to rise dramatically.
Residents in northern Gaza, near the Israeli border, reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of air strikes, but no sign of Israeli ground forces inside the enclave.
The campaign, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “will take more time.” Before any ceasefire, Israeli officials say Hamas, Gaza’s most powerful militant group, must be dealt a strong deterrent blow.
Meanwhile, more street clashes occurred overnight in Lod, a mixed Israeli-Arab city that has seen nightly rioting since hostilities erupted earlier this week, with synagogues, cars, and shops being set ablaze amid reports that Israelis have taken to the streets armed with guns and bats to protect themselves as police are overwhelmed.
According to Israeli news site Ynet, a 19-year-old IDF soldier was severely beaten in the Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa, a Jewish family was attacked inside their car in Umm el-Fahm, and far-right Jewish groups have called for attacks on Arabs and their businesses in the cities of Beer Sheva and Ramle.
After the United States objected to a meeting on Friday, the United Nations Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said.
Early Friday morning, the sound of artillery fire and explosions echoed across Gaza’s northern and eastern regions. According to witnesses, many families living near the border have abandoned their homes, with some seeking refuge at UN-run schools.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces, 160 aircraft flew at the same time in a 40-minute attack on a Hamas-built tunnel network, dropping 450 missiles on 150 targets in northern Gaza.
Following the air strikes, a follow-up attack included the firing of 500 artillery shells, some of which were flares and some of which were explosive, as well as 50 tank shells.
This morning, the IDF launched more airstrikes, claiming to be targeting underground rocket launchers and Hamas observation posts.
The fighting has sparked violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, resulting in violent scenes not seen in over 20 years amid fears of civil war.