Israeli Troops Mass at Gaza Border Amid Rocket Fire, Air Strikes, Clashes in Israel

May 13, 2021 Updated: May 13, 2021

GAZA/JERUSALEM—Israeli troops massed at Gaza’s border on May 13 and Palestinian militants pounded Israel with rockets in intense hostilities that have caused international concern and touched off clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Days of violence between Jewish Israelis and the country’s Arab minority worsened overnight, with synagogues attacked and fighting breaking out on the streets of some communities.

With concern growing that the violence that flared on May 10 could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region. But efforts to end the worst hostilities in years appear so far to have made no progress.

In renewed airstrikes on Gaza, Israel struck a six-story residential building in Gaza City that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave.

At least 83 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on May 10, medics said, further straining hospitals already under heavy pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are facing Israel and COVID-19. We are in between two enemies,” said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker, standing beside a road damaged during the airstrikes. An electricity pole had collapsed by the road, its wires severed.

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A combination picture shows a tower building in Gaza City on May 12, 2021 (L and C) and after it was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, on May 13, 2021. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

In the latest Palestinian rocket attacks, one rocket crashed into a building near Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, injuring five Israelis, police said. Sirens blared in cities across southern Israel, sending thousands running for shelters.

Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said.

“All of Israel is under attack. It’s a very scary situation to be in,” said Margo Aronovic, a 26-year-old student, in Tel Aviv.

Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008–2009.

Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas. Samples were being examined and they had yet to draw any final conclusions, they said.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he hoped the fighting “will be closing down sooner than later.” A British minister urged Israel and Hamas to “take a step back” from the escalation.

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Smoke and flames rise from a tower building as it is destroyed by Israeli airstrikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City, on May 12, 2021. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

‘Open-Ended’ Confrontation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “continue acting to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas” and other Gaza groups. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.

On May 12, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings, including high-rises and a bank, which Israel said was linked to the faction’s activities.

Hamas signaled defiance, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying, “The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Turkey, whose hosting of Hamas leaders in Istanbul in recent years has contributed to a falling out with Israel, called on Muslim countries to show a united and clear stance over the Israel–Gaza violence.

In the fighting inside Israel, some in the 21 percent Arab minority have mounted violent pro-Palestinian protests, and attacks by Jews on Arabs passing by in ethnically mixed areas have worsened.

One person was in critical condition after being shot by Arabs in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, police said.

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A Palestinian woman reacts during scuffles with Israeli security force members amid Israeli-Palestinian tension as Israel marks Jerusalem Day, near Damascus Gate in Old City, Jerusalem, on May 10, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

More than 150 arrests were made overnight in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”

“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” said the president, whose role is largely ceremonial.

Flights Canceled

A number of foreign carriers have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.

The fatalities in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker, medical authorities said.

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A Palestinian boy walks past the remains of a tower building that was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City, on May 12, 2021. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Gaza’s health ministry said 17 of the people killed in the enclave were children and seven were women. The Israeli military said some 400 of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions had fallen short, potentially causing some Palestinian civilian casualties.

The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after Israel’s inconclusive March 23 election.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub