Israel: Tel Aviv under fire – Hamas fires more than 1000 rockets

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Since Tuesday evening, the Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv has been under rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. At least three people died. In Lod, Arabs set fire to a synagogue and cars. A state of emergency is in effect in the city.

At least three people have been killed in the heaviest rocket attacks on Israel’s coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv since the start of the Middle East conflict. According to the Zaka rescue organization, a woman died in a direct hit in the town of Rishon Lezion on Tuesday evening. Police said Wednesday morning that a man and a teenage girl were then killed in Lod near Tel Aviv. Zaka had initially spoken of a woman and a child. In Yehud, also in the greater Tel Aviv area, a house was hit directly, according to emergency services.

Early Wednesday morning, another missile alert went off. The city was again under fire, the Israeli military said. “Families are being woken up and hurriedly taken to shelters,” the army’s Twitter page said.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel so far, according to the Israeli army. Some 850 rockets had been intercepted or had come down in Israel, and about 200 more were still down in the Gaza Strip, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Wednesday morning. According to him, five people have died so far in Israel from rocket fire. More than 200 others have been injured, he said.

Several explosions were heard in downtown Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening. Air raid sirens wailed throughout the city, and Israeli air defense systems were activated. Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was closed to landings and departures because of the attacks. Flights were diverted to Cyprus. The transport authority said that this step was necessary “to enable the defense of the skies over the country.”

The Israeli military has flown airstrikes against the homes of several senior members of the radical Islamic Hamas after shelling from the Gaza Strip. According to the army and the domestic intelligence service Shin Bet, several high-ranking Hamas representatives were killed in targeted attacks. These were close to military chief Mohammed Deif and were part of Hamas’ military staff, the army and intelligence service said Wednesday.

The military also destroyed two multi-story buildings in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night. According to reports, they contained offices of senior Hamas members. Residents of the buildings had been warned of the attack by Israel’s forces. The Gaza police headquarters was also hit in airstrikes, the military said Wednesday morning. Hamas had threatened a “hard” rocket attack on Tel Aviv before the destruction of the first building.

According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, the number of Palestinians killed since Monday rose to 35, including 12 children and three women. 233 people have been injured, it said. According to local media and eyewitness reports, some children were killed by Israeli airstrikes and others by misdirected rockets fired by the extremists. According to the Israeli army, at least 20 members of the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants were killed, including senior officials.

Netanyahu fears more fighting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier announced that he would step up attacks on the Palestinian territory in response to massive rocket fire. Palestinian militants have been shelling Israel with rockets since shortly after 6 p.m. Monday evening.

Netanyahu said in a televised address Tuesday evening that the operation had already dealt a heavy blow to the extremists. However, he said the fighting would continue for some time.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations “have paid a heavy price and will pay a heavy price,” the head of government said. Israel will continue its intensified operation, he said, but it will take time to complete the mission.

Synagogue set on fire

In the town of Cholon, south of Tel Aviv, a bus was hit Tuesday evening, burning out. Initial reports of a woman’s death in the incident were later not confirmed. At least six people were injured in the rocket attack, the Times of Israel newspaper reported, citing emergency services. More people were injured in the greater Tel Aviv area, according to paramedics.

In the town of Lod near Tel Aviv, where Jews and Arabs live together, there was heavy rioting on Tuesday evening. According to media reports, Arab residents desecrated a synagogue and set it on fire. In addition, dozens of cars were set on fire and windows of stores were smashed.

Jewish residents accused the police of a complete loss of control and demanded that soldiers be sent to the city. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz then agreed to send several battalions of border police to restore calm in the city. Israeli authorities declared a state of emergency in the city. Netanyahu gave the go-ahead on Wednesday, his office announced.

In Lod, a 25-year-old Arab man had been fatally wounded by gunfire during riots. A 34-year-old was subsequently arrested, police said Tuesday. According to media reports, the suspect is a Jewish resident of the city.

Violence between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East has been escalating since Friday – the fiercest clashes in several years. The U.S. government condemned the rocket attacks on Israel. The country has a right to defend itself, said presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki. The U.S. was focused on de-escalating the situation.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) also condemned the massive rocket attacks from Gaza. “The fact that there is now still such an escalation of violence is neither to be tolerated nor accepted, and we have also made that very clear to the Palestinian Authority,” Maas said Tuesday evening during his visit to Italy in Rome. He added that the rocket attacks must stop immediately. “Israel has the right to self-defense in this situation,” Maas added.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet for the second time in a few days for an emergency session. The consultations, scheduled for Wednesday morning (local time) in New York, were initiated by China, Tunisia, Norway, France, Estonia, Ireland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Niger and Vietnam, according to diplomats. U.N. Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland is expected to bring the most powerful U.N. body into the picture at the meeting. The 15-member council failed to agree on a joint position at an initial meeting Monday.

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