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Jumat, 14 Mei 2021

Israeli tanks on the border pound Gaza to destroy tunnel network - Sydney Morning Herald

By Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss

Gaza City: Israeli artillery pounded northern Gaza early on Friday morning in an attempt to destroy a vast network of militant tunnels inside the territory, the military said, paving the way for a potential ground invasion.

The attack on the border of the densely populated zone was the Israeli military’s strongest show of force yet in the worsening hostilities as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video vowing to continue the operation as long as necessary.

The crisis threatens to up-end the fragile agreements Israel has struck with Arab nations in the past year and destabilise peace in the middle east, as international calls for de-escalation were ignored and the bitter feud broke into the worst fighting since 2014.

Rockets are fired in both directions in the early hours of Friday as Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border.

Rockets are fired in both directions in the early hours of Friday as Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border. Credit:AFP

As the US stands by its ally Israel and truce efforts proposed this week by Egypt have been rejected by both sides, the UN has called a public meeting of its Security Council for this Sunday.

Israel has massed troops along Gaza’s border and called up 9,000 reservists following days of fighting with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Palestinians militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 air strikes, toppling at least three apartment blocks in Gaza.

The surge in the fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod, where more than 40 people were arrested on Friday. The fighting took place despite a bolstered police presence ordered by the nation’s leaders.

Red flames illuminated the skies as the deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced the building to rubble, residents said. Sadallah Tanani, a relative, said the family was “wiped out from the population register” without warning. “It was a massacre. My feelings are indescribable,” he said.

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Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds. It was part of a large operation aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and air strikes.

“As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that wasn’t feasible this time.”

Saleh Aruri, an exiled senior Hamas leader, told London-based satellite channel Al Araby that his group has turned down a proposal from Egypt for a three-hour hiatus. He said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts. Al-Araby also reported that Israel declined Egypt’s proposal.

US President Joe Biden called on Thursday for a de-escalation of the violence, saying he wanted to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.

The Australian government and the Opposition repeated their support for a two-state solution.

“Israel unquestionably has the right to defend itself and its people. Unquestionably,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Scenes of destruction in Gaza during the Israeli offensive.Credit:Twitter/@Farah_Gazan

“And, equally, Palestinians need to be able to live safely.”

The fighting broke out late last Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem after Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, leaving over 300 people injured.

Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing earth-shaking explosions across the densely populated territory. Gaza militants have fired around 2000 rockets into Israel, including more than 400 that fell short or misfired, according to the military.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 119 Palestinians, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 people wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is closer to 90.

The death toll in Israel stood at eight: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians - including a an elderly woman who fell on the way to a shelter on Friday and two children - and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

Netanyahu’s chances to remain in power after an inconclusive March 23 election appeared to improve significantly after his main rival, centrist Yair Lapid, suffered a major setback in efforts to create a rival coalition government.

His opponents include a broad range of parties that have little in common. They would need the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he cannot negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.

This raises the possibility that Netanyahu could remain Prime Minister until Israel goes to a fifth election later this year to resolve the political stalemate.

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza, a densely populated area that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. Gaza’s borders are controlled by Israel and Egypt.

Israel says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.

Hamas showed no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometres into southern Israel. The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at the southern Ramon airport.

Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, which would be a chance “to increase our catch” of dead or captive soldiers.

AP, Reuters, staff writers

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2021-05-14 08:59:01Z
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