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WORLD | 12-05-2021 17:34

New Hamas rocket barrage after Israel levels another Gaza tower

Hamas unleashed a fresh barrage of deadly rocket fire towards Israel Wednesday in retaliation for the levelling of a 14-story building in Gaza by Israel, which ruled out an imminent ceasefire. World leaders call for de-escalation of conflict.

Hamas unleashed a fresh barrage of deadly rocket fire towards Israel Wednesday in retaliation for the levelling of a 14-story building in Gaza by Israel, which ruled out an imminent ceasefire.

Hamas said the volley of 130 rockets, which killed a six-year-old boy in southern Israel and set off air raid warnings up to Tel Aviv, was a response to the destruction of Gaza City's Al-Farouk tower.

The tower, which spewed black smoke from bright embers following the strike, was described by Israel as housing the Hamas intelligence service, among its latest targets in two days of near relentless air strikes.

Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz had earlier vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Islamist militant groups in Gaza to bring "total, long-term quiet" before considering a ceasefire.

"This is just the beginning," warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gaza militants have launched roughly 1,200 rockets since Monday, said Israel's Army, which has carried out more than 350 airstrikes on the crowded coastal enclave, hitting what it calls military targets.

The most intense hostilities in seven years between Israel and Gaza's armed groups were triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

After Israeli police stormed the mosque in response to projectiles thrown by Palestinian worshippers, Hamas vowed revenge.

At least 65 people have been killed in Gaza, including 16 children, and seven in Israel, including a soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.

The six-year-old boy died after a rocket struck his home in Sderot, where four other people were being treated for injuries, the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue agency said.

The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the United States, Israel's ally.

Netanyahu spoke late Wednesday to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who reiterated his call to "end the violence."

'Pogrom'

Coinciding with the aerial bombardments is surging violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

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.

"Last night my friend went into his synagogue at 12 o'clock in the night and try to took out the books so they wouldn't burn them," said Lod resident Yoel Frankenburg.

Wael Abo Sharkh said the city had been beacon of coexistence until Jewish "extremists" moved in 10 years ago.

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a "pogrom" in which "an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob" had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

Police have placed Lod under curfew and there were fears of widening civil unrest with Arab-Jewish violence breaking out in several mixed communities.

Hamas leaders killed

Hamas said several of its top commanders have been killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa.

Israeli Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said roughly 30 senior Islamist leaders had been killed since Monday and that strikes on Gaza would continue as Israel prepare for "multiple scenarios."

Sending group troops into Gaza was "one scenario" that was not the focus of the current operation, Conricus said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up attacks, warning that "if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to "step back from the brink."

'We don't have a safe room'

In Gaza City, people have sifted through debris after a previous Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-storey building that Hamas said had been a residential building. It was also known to house the offices of several Hamas officials.

Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.

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.

Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.

"We heard the noise of the rocket," said Ismail. "It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don't have a safe room."

An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into "hell," rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.

The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.

Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

by Ben Simon with Adel Zaanoun in Gaza City, AFP

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