Deaths Increase as Palestinians flee Israeli fire in Gaza

Deaths Increase as Palestinians flee Israeli fire in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled areas on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday since Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of tank fire and airstrikes. Israel said it was draining a community of militant tunnels.

Separately, in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials said seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli military fire in many locations.

Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired a few 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has established over 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three high-rise flat buildings, and contains shelled several regions with tanks stationed near the frontier.

As Israel and Hamas dove nearer to all-out war despite global attempts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night. Arab and jewish mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after Israel dispatched additional security forces.

The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll in the fighting has risen to 119 murdered, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths within their positions, though Israel says that amount is much higher. Seven people are murdered in Israel, such as a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.

Of those seven Palestinians killed in the West Bank, most were murdered in stone-throwing clashes in several locations, although one had been killed while attempting to stab an Israeli soldier, the health officials said. About 100 were hurt, many by live fire, they said.

The protests took place in many places across the West Bank, signaling that a new wave of unrest there within their escalation of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Before dawn Friday, Israeli tanks and warplanes completed an intense barrage on the northern end of the Gaza Strip.

In the shadow, Houda Ouda and her family ran frantically in their home in the town of Beit Hanoun, attempting to locate shelter as the ground shook for two and half hours, Ouda recalled.

"We even did not dare to check in the window to know what's being hit," she said. When daylight arrived, she saw that the swath of destruction out: streets cratered, buildings crushed, their facades torn off, an olive tree burned bare, dust and powered concrete covering what.

One of the dead was a household of six. Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four kids, aged seven and under, were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced their four-story apartment building to rubble from the neighboring town of Beit Lahia, residents said.

Four strikes hit on the building at 11 p.m., before the family was going to sleep, Rafat's brother Fadi said. The building's owner and his wife were also murdered.

"This was a massacre," stated Sadallah Tanani, yet another comparative. "My feelings are indescribable."

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli army spokesman, said the performance involved tank fire and airstrikes, aimed at destroying a network of tunnels beneath Gaza City the military describes as"the Metro," used by militants to evade surveillance and airstrikes.

"As always, the aim is to strike military targets and also to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties," he said. "Contrary to our really elaborate efforts to clear civilian regions before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that was not possible this time."

After the sun rose, residents streamed from the area in pickup trucks, on donkeys and on foot, taking cushions, blankets, pots and pans and bread. "We had been terrified for our kids, who were screaming and shaking," explained Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 individuals, including 13 children.

Thousands crowded into 16 U.N.-run schools for shelter, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians.

Mohammed Ghabayen, who took refuge in 1 school with his loved ones, said his kids had eaten nothing since the day ahead, and they had no need to sleep on. "And that is at the shadow of this coronavirus catastrophe," he explained. "We don't know whether to take precautions for your own coronavirus or the rockets or the best way to do precisely.

The strikes came after Egyptian mediators hurried to Israel to get cease-fire discussions that showed no indications of advancement. Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were directing the truce efforts.

An Egyptian intelligence official with all the talks said Israel refused an Egyptian proposal for a yearlong truce with Hamas and other Gaza militants, which would have started at midnight Thursday had Israel agreed. He said Hamas had accepted the suggestion.

The officer said Israel wants to delay a cease-fire to give time to ruin of Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's military capacities. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the media.

The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests that there contrary to the policing of a flashpoint holy site and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their houses.

Since then, Israel has attacked countless targets in Gaza, causing earth-shaking explosions in densely populated areas. Of the 1,800 rockets Gaza militants have fired, more than 400 dropped short or misfired, and a lot of the remainder have been intercepted by missile defense systems, according to the military.

Nevertheless the rockets have attracted life in parts of southern Israel to a standstill, and several barrages have targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to continue the operation, saying in a video statement that Israel would"extract an extremely hefty price from Hamas."

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about soothing the fighting also backed the Israeli leader by saying"there has not been a substantial overreaction."

He explained the goal today is to"reach a stage where there is a substantial decrease in attacks, especially enemy strikes."

The fighting has, for the moment, disrupted efforts by Netanyahu's political rivals to form a new government coalition, prolonging his attempt to stay in office following inconclusive parliamentary elections. His opponents have three months to agree on a coalition but need the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he can't negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.

It states Hamas is responsible for threatening civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launch rockets from them.

It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, almost 200 kilometers (120 miles) to southern Israel on Thursday. The rocket landed in the open desert but temporarily disrupted flight traffic in the southern Ramon airport. Hamas has also launched two drones which Israel said it immediately shot down.

A spokesman for Hamas' military wing said the team wasn't frightened of a ground invasion, which is a chance"to boost our catch" of Israeli soldiers.

The current eruption of violence started a month ago in Jerusalem.

The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews from Jerusalem along with other mixed cities across Israel has added a new layer of volatility into the battle not found in two or more decades.

The violence continued into Friday. A Jewish man was shot and seriously wounded in Lod, the epicenter of those troubles, and Israeli media said a second Jewish man was taken. In the Tel Aviv area of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was assaulted by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 750 suspects have been detained since the communal violence began earlier this week.


Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, also Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.