Death toll passes 50 as deadly Israel-Gaza conflict enters third day of violence

Death toll passes 50 as deadly Israel-Gaza conflict enters third day of violence

Rockets and tank fire streamed out of Gaza, and Israeli pummelled the enclave with airstrikes as fierce fighting between the two sides entered a third day in the worst violence since the 2014 war.

The death toll in the conflict reached 59, with 15 children among those who have lost their lives.

All but one of the children were killed in Gaza, where the total death toll soared to 53 while another 320 have been wounded as a result of airstrikes, according to the latest update from Palestinian health officials.

With little hope of an imminent ceasefire Israel’s emergency service said on Wednesday that one person had died and another had been seriously wounded by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza, meaning six Israelis, including three women and a child, have been killed in fire from the blockaded strip.

The Israeli military said in total over 1,000 rockets had been fired by Palestinian militants on Israel including nearly a hundred which rained down on the Tel Aviv area on Tuesday night, over 70 km away from Gaza, lighting up the sky.

The unprecedented barrage of rockets at times have been so intense it has overwhelmed Israel’s missile defences, causing air raid sirens to wail far further north of the country.

Israeli airstrikes have pounded areas of the Gaza Strip levelling two well-known apartment towers in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said it sent warning shots and made calls to allow people to evacuate the buildings leading to no civilian casualties, but the material losses will be immense.

Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.

Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israeli military, said their strikes had targeted Hamas military intelligence and anti-tank commanders, as well as weapons stores and factories.

He said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.

Neither side showed signs of backing down: Hamas officials have linked the conflict to the status and situation in Jerusalem, a contested city that both sides claim as their capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time”.

Israeli military officials have spoken of an open-ended conflict.

The violence also spread to the town of Lod, close to Tel Aviv. The town was placed under a state of emergency after protests by Israeli Arabs.

Boris Johnson joined multiple world leaders appealing for calm. On Wednesday he urged both Israeli and Palestinian Leaders to “step back from the brink”, amid growing international fears that the conflict could escalate rapidly.

“I am urging Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the brink and for both sides to show restraint,” he said.

“The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” by the situation.

The cross- border fighting is the dramatic crescendo to weeks of tensions that have simmered chiefly in the contested city of Jerusalem, that was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and effectively annexed later.

Violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces have centred around the Old City home to Temple Mount or Haram Ash-Sharif, the volcanic heart of the decades’ long conflict.

It reached breaking point after a controversial decision by Israel to evict four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem in place of Israeli settlers.

The UN has said this order may amount to war crimes, and protests by Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel rolled out across the country, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

But the cross border flare-up first erupted when on Monday, Hamas fired six long-range rockets towards Jerusalem, over 100km away, for the first time in seven years.

The group said it was in retaliation for Israeli forces storming al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, multiple times with stun grenades and tear gas.

The conflict edged towards a full-blown war when Hamas rained rockets down on Tel Aviv on Tuesday in retaliation for an airstrike that levelled a prominent multi-storey bloc.

In Gaza, families described horrific scenes as airstrikes landed without warning in some areas.

“The children were playing around the home and their uncle was working near them, preparing the food for his animals. Suddenly the Israelis planes hit them, with no reason,” said Hag Hamza Almasri, 65 years old in the north of Gaza who lost several grandchildren in a strike.

“We are unarmed people. There were children. Why bomb us?” he asked.

In southern Israel under an almost constant barrage of fire, panicked civilians repeatedly dashed for bomb shelters with some not able to make it in time.

“They can’t even direct their rockets, so they are firing at anywhere and everything, at civilians” said one man whose neighbour was killed in an airstrike in Ashkelon.

“The rockets have been non-stop.”

In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence in the region and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.

Conricus said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement and follow international laws on armed conflict.

“We are definitely very mindful of civilian casualties in Gaza and we want to minimize them,” he said. “That’s the priority.”