Casualties continued to mount on Thursday in the most severe outbreak of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Territories since 2014.
More than 83 Palestinians, including 17 children, have been killed in Gaza and at least seven Israelis have been killed since rocket attacks and airstrikes between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began on Monday.
Tensions over the eviction of Palestinians from strategic parts of East Jerusalem reached boiling point at the start of the week, leading to Israeli police descending on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, with hundreds injured in the ensuing carnage.
Thousands of Israeli families then spent Wednesday night in bomb shelters as Hamas intensified its bombardment of Tel Aviv and other cities in south, central and northern Israel, while several multi-storey buildings in Gaza have been reduced to rubble.
No end in sight as IDF troops deployed to border
Despite diplomatic efforts to ease the crisis, which U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he hoped would end “sooner than later”, hundreds of rockets flew across the Gaza Strip overnight.
On Thursday the IDF said it had deployed two infantry units and one armoured unit to the border with Gaza amid reports in Israeli media of a possible ground invasion.
The IDF also confirmed it had struck another multi-storey building in the Rimal district of Gaza being used as a base by Hamas intelligence officers.
Israeli artillery also pounded targets in Gaza from the border and mid-way through Thursday the IDF said it had identified and thwarted four separate groups of Hamas militants operating anti-tank missiles inside Gaza.
Civilian casualties mount on Thursday morning
The Israeli army has struck more than 600 targets in the Gaza Strip since the conflict began four days ago. In Gaza, a crowded coastal enclave of 2 million people, there are no air raid sirens or safe houses.
On the morning of Eid al-Fitr, the normally joyous holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, residents of the Palestinian Territories woke up to scenes of devastation.
Distraught families in hospital told of pulling their bloodied relatives from piles of rubble while bombs continued to thunder in the distance.
“There is nowhere to run, there is nowhere to hide,” Zeyad Khattab, a 44-year-old pharmacist, told AP after fleeing to the central district of Deir al-Balah when his high-rise was bombed. “That terror is impossible to describe.”
Hamas rocket attacks also terrorized Israeli citizens on Wednesday night, with the IDF stating on Thursday that some 1,500 rockets had been launched at Israel since the flare-up began.
Most of the rockets were deflected by the country’s Iron Dome air defense system but some landed, destroying homes and property.
Several mixed Israeli cities were also rocked by street-level mob violence on Wednesday night between far-right Jewish groups and Arab citizens of Israel. Businesses and synagogues were looted and torched, and at least one Palestinian was shot and killed in the city of Lod.
Police confirmed on Thursday that they arrested nearly 400 people allegedly “involved in riots and disturbances” across the country the previous night.