Jerusalem / Gaza (dpa) – With a major strike, the Israeli military has attacked a major tunnel system owned by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. “Many kilometers” of the network were damaged, the military announced on Friday via the short message service Twitter.
Militant Palestinians, meanwhile, continued to bomb Israel from the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean. According to the military, a total of 1,800 missiles have now been fired. On Friday, warning sirens sounded over and over, especially near the Palestinian area on the Mediterranean.
More than 120 people have died in Gaza since the conflict escalated on Monday night, according to the Ministry of Health. As the Israeli military announced, eight people have been killed by rocket fire in Israel in recent days. According to Egyptian security circles, Israel has rejected an offer from the Cairo government to arrange a ceasefire.
The United Nations called for the border between Israel and Gaza to be opened to fuel and relief supplies. About two million Palestinians live in the cordoned off area. The federal government condemned anti-Semitic demonstrations of the kind that had taken place in several German cities. At the same time, it offered extra protection to Jewish institutions.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians had culminated during the Islamic month of fasting of Ramadan and after the cancellation of the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Police barriers in the old city of Jerusalem, which many young Palestinians viewed as humiliation, are considered the trigger.
Additionally, there were clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem over evictions and violent skirmishes on the Temple Mount (Al-Haram al-Sharif). The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque complex is the third holiest site in Islam. But it is also sacred to Jews because there used to be two Jewish temples. Islamist Hamas has declared itself a defender of Jerusalem.
Israel blames the second largest Palestinian group for all attacks from the coastal area. Hamas has been classified as a terrorist organization by Israel and the EU.
For years, according to the military, Hamas built the tunnel system that was attacked on Friday night. It lies partly under the city of Gaza. It’s sort of a “city under the city,” said an army spokesman. 160 “planes” and tanks were involved in the complex 40-minute attack that fired at targets in the coastal area from the Israeli side. Not a single Israeli soldier entered the Gaza Strip.
Media reports had previously said the military was preparing for a possible ground offensive. The army wrote on its English Twitter account that evening: “Air and ground forces are currently attacking the Gaza Strip.” Moments later, reports came in foreign media that ground forces had entered the Gaza Strip. Army spokesman Conricus apologized that morning for miscommunication.
There has been speculation in the Israeli media that the confusion may have been deliberate. The Haaretz newspaper said, citing suspicions on social media, that media reports may have prompted Hamas to send fighters into the tunnel system, which was subsequently attacked. Another army spokesman said in the afternoon, “We are not using the press for our purposes.”
In the West Bank, there were new clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in several places on Friday. Following the escalation, there have also been riots in recent days in Israeli cities where many of the Arab Israelis live. There is now a curfew in Lod and additional guards are scattered all over the country. The situation has not completely calmed down: on Friday evening, the police again arrested rioters who threw stones and incendiary bombs.
Israeli policy is very concerned about the developments and possible long-term consequences. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even sees a second front facing the country. Defense Secretary Benny Gantz recently warned that this conflict is “no less dangerous than the Hamas missiles.” The Arab minority makes up about 20 percent of the population in Israel. She often speaks of discrimination. Right-wing politicians often portray the Arabs in Israel as enemies of the Jewish state.
Saturday is Nakba (catastrophe) day. The Palestinians then commemorate the expulsion and flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. There are fears of new violent protests. This year, the day coincides with the third day of the Eid-al-Fitr festival, the so-called sugar festival at the end of Ramadan.