Israel sent its military into Gaza early Friday, a major escalation of violence between Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and Israeli forces carrying out airstrikes in Gaza.
It was not immediately clear if the Israeli incursion was a limited bid to destroy rocket bases or kill leaders of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, or if it was a full-fledged invasion akin to the one in 2014 that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians.
The news was announced by the Israeli Defense Forces with a one-line tweet at 12:22 a.m. (5:22 p.m. Thursday on the East Coast of the United States): “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”
An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, confirmed that “There are ground troops attacking in Gaza, together with air forces as well.”
IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 13, 2021
Hours earlier, Israel had called up 7,000 military reservists and canceled all leaves for troops in combat units, leading to speculation that an escalation was imminent.
The incursion came as the United States and others were urging a diplomatic resolution of violence that began on Monday, set off by a clash between Arab worshipers and Israeli police at the Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs on the streets of Israeli cities have given way to warnings from Israeli leaders that the decades-old conflict could be careening toward a civil war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the scenes of arson and violence as “anarchy” and appealed for an end to “lynchings.”
When Mr. Netanyahu visited the town of Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, on Thursday, he said that the violence there was motivated by nationalistic rioters and that soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces could be brought in. The military called up 7,000 reservists and canceled leaves for all combat units.
“There is no greater threat now than these riots, and it is essential to bring back law and order with these means,” he said. Riot control measures such as water cannons and administrative arrests may also be used, he said. The police have put strict measures in place in Lod, limiting entry into the city from 5 p.m. and instituting an 8 p.m. curfew.
A day earlier, he had called the violence “unacceptable” and said, “Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs, and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews.”
Israel carried out more airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, where the death toll rose on Thursday to 83 people since the fighting began early this week, according to the Gaza health ministry. Palestinian militants fired volleys of rockets from Gaza — some 1,800 in three days — that reached far into Israel, where seven have died since Monday.
On Thursday, three rockets were fired from Lebanon that landed in the Mediterranean Sea off Israel’s coast, a spokesman for the Israeli military said. It was unclear who fired them, and whether that volley represented the opening of a new front in the conflict.
Alongside those now-familiar scenes, Jewish and Arab citizens have clashed in the worst violence in decades in Israeli cities — stoning cars, burning offices and places of worship, and forming mobs that have dragged people from their vehicles and beat them to within an inch of their lives.
Several Israeli leaders, led by President Reuven Rivlin, evoked the specter of civil war — a once unthinkable idea.
“We need to solve our problems without causing a civil war that can be a danger to our existence, more than all the dangers we have from the outside,” Mr. Rivlin said. “The silent majority is not saying a thing, because it is utterly stunned.”
Palestinian leaders, however, said the talk of civil war was a distraction from what they see as the true cause of the unrest — police brutality against Palestinian protesters and provocative actions by right-wing Israeli settler groups.
“The police shot an Arab demonstrators in Lod,” said Ahmed Tibi, the leader of the Ta’al party and a member of Israel’s Parliament, referring to the mixed Arab-Jewish city in Israel where some of the worst clashes occurred. “We don’t want bloodshed. We want to protest.”
Gaza militants and Israeli forces have been trading attacks for days now, ever since a police raid at a Jerusalem mosque atop a site revered by both Muslims and Jews.
The Israeli border police have been deployed in Arab and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered more of the forces into the streets on Thursday after another night of unrest.
In one seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking a man presumed to be Arab, even as he lay motionless on the ground. To the north, in another coastal town, an Arab mob beat a man they thought was Jewish with sticks and rocks, leaving him in a critical condition. Nearby, an Arab mob nearly stabbed to death a man believed to be Jewish.
Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian rapper considered one of the symbols of Lod mourned the terrible rupture inside the community.
“Maybe we look at the word coexistence differently,” he said. “But so far there is only one side, the Jewish side.”
The Aqsa raid might have been the spark for the current round of hostilities, but the fuel was years of anger from Israel’s Arab minority, who make up about 20 percent of the population. They have full citizenship, but rights advocates say they are victims of dozens of discriminatory regulations.
“The way that we are treated is as though we shouldn’t be here,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst from Haifa, a city in northern Israel.
LOD, Israel — The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence inside Israeli cities that have fed fears the country could be careening toward a civil war.
When the violence spread on Monday from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to Gaza, an uneasy coexistence in Lod, deep inside central Israel, abruptly ruptured.
The authorities have declared a state of emergency in the town of about 80,000 people and imposed a night curfew from Wednesday. Armed border police, brought in from the occupied West Bank, were deployed.
But the curfew did little to calm the atmosphere, and both Jews and Arabs described a terrifying night on Wednesday. Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s population, rioted while Jewish extremists came from outside Lod and burned Arab cars and property.
On Thursday morning, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to synagogue, but he survived.
Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old Arab resident of Lod who works for the Israeli food company Osem, said her house was charred when rioters threw a Molotov cocktail into her yard on Wednesday night. She lamented that the police did not come to protect her family.
“We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning,” she said. “We are not living in Gaza. I’m an Israeli citizen and we didn’t do anything,” she said with tears in her eyes.
The latest eruption of Israeli-Arab warfare bears many of the hallmarks of past conflicts: round after round of Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and salvos of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. But this time, a distinctly different type of violence has spilled over into Israeli cities, some of them with mixed Jewish and Arab populations living closely intertwined lives.
It was this unusual outburst of street clashes inside Israel that prompted the president to warn of a civil war and the prime minister to call for an end to “lynchings” by Arab and Jewish mobs that have run amok.
Ramat Eshkol, a hardscrabble neighborhood near the old quarter of Lod, has been one of the hottest flash points of violence in the town. A community of young Orthodox Jews moved there in recent years. Many of them live with Arab neighbors in shared apartment buildings. Israeli flags flying out the windows mark some of the Jewish apartments.
Arab youths in Lod, inflamed by the clashes at the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem and by a long history of discrimination and generations-old fear of displacement, began protesting on Monday night outside a mosque in the old quarter and were dispersed by police who used stun grenades and tear gas, residents said.
That ignited a broader flare-up that then spread to other mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities in Israel.
By the end of the night on Monday, an Arab man was fatally shot when dozens of stone-throwing protesters approached a building with Jewish residents. Since then, at least four synagogues have been burned as well as a religious school and a military training academy.
Yousef Ezz, a 33-year-old Arab truck driver from Lod, said his truck was burned on Wednesday night.
“People have lost all their faith. This is their last stop,” he said. “I will live and die here and my children will live or die here.”
Tahael Harris, a 27-year-old Jewish woman who lives in a shabby building with a mix of Arab and Jewish citizens opposite the school that was burned, said that for the last three nights, she and her husband and two children have been holed up at home behind locked doors while mobs of Arabs were setting cars on fire and throwing stones.
On Wednesday night, the violence ramped up and the family heard live gunfire.
“There is a feeling it’s only getting worse,” she said. “Before, it was quiet, not perfect, but we were good neighbors. I don’t know where they were last night. I don’t want to ask because I’m scared to hear the answer,” she said, fearing her own neighbors were among the attackers.
Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets from Gaza at Israel this week, far more than in previous clashes, according to Israeli officials, who on Thursday expressed surprise at the size of the barrage and the range of some of the rockets.
Israel’s “Iron Dome” antimissile system has shot down many of the rockets, and many others have struck places where they could do little damage. But some of the rockets, which are unguided, have hit populated areas, blowing up buildings and cars and killing seven people in Israel.
The increasingly sophisticated arsenal of rockets is the primary weapon of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. Other groups there, like Islamic Jihad, also have them. Israeli intelligence estimates there are 30,000 rockets and mortar projectiles stockpiled in Gaza.
Hamas was believed before this week to have rockets with ranges approaching 100 miles, and many more with shorter ranges. Israel’s largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, as well as its primary airport, Ben Gurion airport, are within 40 miles of Gaza. The airport has been closed to incoming passenger flights because of the danger, with flights diverted to Ramon airport to the southeast.
But rockets have also been fired at Ramon, more than 110 miles from the nearest part of Gaza. A Hamas spokesman said the rockets aimed at that airport were a new type that could travel 155 miles, putting all of Israel within range of Gaza. The claim could not be verified, and it was not clear how many of the new rockets the group had.
In the past, many of the rockets fired from Gaza were smuggled in from Egypt, or assembled locally from smuggled parts. But in recent years, most have been made in Gaza, with technical assistance from Iran that Hamas has openly acknowledged.
Muslims around the world marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, a day typically filled with prayer, celebration and feasting. But for many Palestinians, the moment was a somber one amid escalating clashes with Israel that have killed scores in just a few days.
Tens of thousands of worshipers gathered at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem at dawn to mark Eid al-Fitr, days after Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians there in one of the triggers to the current round of violence. That episode quickly spiraled into a deadly conflict as Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes on the territory.
The Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam, located in a complex in the Old City of Jerusalem that is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of worshipers stood in lines and then bowed in prayer.
Some waved Palestinian flags and a banner showing an image of Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. Across the region, in prayers in Jordan and Turkey, some of those gathered to mark Eid waved Palestinian flags in solidarity.
In Gaza, days of Israeli airstrikes had killed more than 80 people by Thursday morning, according to Palestinian health officials. At least six Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza into Israel by Hamas militants and their allies.
In one photo from Gaza on Thursday, three Palestinian men laid their mats alongside buildings that had been destroyed by recent airstrikes and bowed in prayer as the sun rose over the crumbling heap of concrete and tangled metal.
Elsewhere in Gaza, funerals were held throughout the morning for those killed in the strikes.
Deadly violence between Palestinians and Israel continued to take a toll on Thursday, including clashes in city streets, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as “anarchy.”
Airlines in Europe canceled flights to Israel on Thursday as violence in the Middle Eastern nation escalated, and arriving flights were being diverted to Ramon International Airport in southern Israel.
Airlines in the United States had begun canceling flights on Wednesday.
British Airways said it had canceled its flights between London and Israel on Thursday. “The safety and security of our colleagues and customers is always our top priority, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” the airline said in a statement.
Lufthansa, the German airline, said it was suspending flights to Israel until Friday. Virgin Atlantic said it had canceled its service between London and Tel Aviv on Thursday morning. And the Spanish airline Iberia canceled its flight to the city on Thursday from Madrid, Reuters reported.
Flights arriving in Israel that would typically land at Ben-Gurion Airport, about 12 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, were being diverted to Ramon Airport, Israel’s second-largest international airport, the Jerusalem Post said.
El Al Airlines, the Israeli national airline, confirmed on its website that most of its incoming flights would land at Ramon airport, in the south of Israel, instead of Ben-Gurion. Outgoing flights were still due to leave from Ben-Gurion, El Al said on its website. It said on Wednesday that customers with travel booked before May 19 would be able to reschedule without being subject to fees.
United Airlines, American Airlines Delta Air Lines canceled flights to and from Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and in some cases waived change fees for customers with planned trips through May 25.
As the United States and Egyptian mediators head to Israel to begin de-escalation talks, the antagonists are weighing delicate internal considerations before agreeing to discussions on ending the violence.
Both Israel and Hamas first have to find ways to spin a narrative of victory for their publics, analysts say, but the task will be easier for Hamas than for Israel.
Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has to calculate the impact of the fighting on his own political fortunes, made more complicated by the internal unrest between Jews and Israeli Arabs in numerous cities inside Israel. The crucial decision for Israel is whether “victory” requires sending ground troops into Gaza, which would extend the conflict and significantly increase the number of dead and wounded on both sides.
For the Palestinians, the indefinite postponement of elections last month by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, created a vacuum that Hamas is more than willing to fill. Hamas argues that it is the only Palestinian faction that, with its large stockpile of improved missiles, is defending the holy places of Jerusalem, turning Mr. Abbas into a spectator.
President Biden has spoken to Mr. Netanyahu and repeated the usual formula about Israel’s right to self-defense, and he has dispatched an experienced diplomat, the deputy assistant secretary of state Hady Amr, to urge de-escalation on both sides.
GAZA CITY — On Tuesday evening, Gazans celebrated as they heard the whoosh of rockets sent toward Israel.
But by Wednesday morning the cheers had stopped, as Gazans saw the aftermath of what some described as the most intense airstrikes since cross-border Israeli-Palestinian hostilities flared again this week.
In one neighborhood, near Zeitoun and Sabra, residents inspected their homes and neighborhoods for damage, and desperately sought information about where the missiles might strike next.
“I felt that the hits were random,” said Nadal Issa, 27, the owner of a bridal shop.
Hamas and other militants have been exchanging fire with Israel since Monday. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 16 children as of Wednesday night, officials said. In Israel, at least six civilians have been killed, including one child.
In Gaza, some said they had never felt anything as harrowing as the surge of Israeli strikes that came Wednesday morning.
Some said it felt as if blast waves were hitting their face and body, as if their block were under attack. Disoriented, they staggered to windows to look outside.
“My two children woke up, and they asked me, ‘What’s going on?’” Mr. Issa said. Thinking quickly, he reminded them that the holiday marking the end of Ramadan was near. “I told them these are celebrations for Eid.”
Mohammed Sabtie, a 30-year-old motorcycle mechanic, was among the Gazans who left their homes after the airstrikes subsided on Wednesday morning to see the damage.
“The sound was very, very horrific,” Mr. Sabtie said. “It was like a state of war. It was the first time I ever heard anything like this.”
Was he scared? Yes, he said, but also glad to see Palestinians fighting back.
“Our ambitions are not war,” Mr. Sabtie said. “Our ambitions are security and peace. We have to do this. We don’t want to be hit and insulted. We want to hit back.”
Violence in Israel could have “significant economic repercussions” if it leads to sustained conflict between Jewish and Arab citizens, the Fitch credit ratings agency said Thursday.
The warning from Fitch, whose views influence the interest rates paid by the Israeli government and Israeli corporations, was an indication of how rioting and mob attacks in cities like Lod could undercut the country’s recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic.
Fitch, noting that the Israeli economy has withstood past conflicts, said damage to the government’s creditworthiness would be limited “unless there is a substantial and sustained escalation in violence.”
If persistent strife prompts bond investors to demand higher interest rates on Israeli government debt, borrowing costs for businesses and consumers would also rise and act as a brake on growth.
Fitch and other ratings agencies consider Israeli government bonds to be a relatively safe investment, but the country already pays a premium because of what Fitch called its “hostile geopolitical environment.”
Fitch said that violence involving Arab Israelis, who make up about one-fifth of the population, represents a particular risk. In recent days Jewish and Arab citizens have clashed in the worst violence in decades in Israeli cities, in some cases dragging people from their vehicles and beating them severely.
The violence will make it more difficult for the leading political parties to form a stable government following elections in March that produced a stalemate. And the fighting will hurt the Israeli tourism industry, Fitch said.
The fighting will also hinder Israel from benefiting from better relations with other countries in the region, Fitch said. “The prospect of improved regional relations has receded further with the latest clashes,” Fitch said.
The United States Embassy in Jerusalem has warned its staff members and their families to stay close to home or near bomb shelters because of the heightened threat of rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in Gaza, barely 40 miles away.
The warning, issued on Wednesday and posted on the embassy’s website, came as the crisis engulfing Israel and the Palestinian territories escalated to the most violent in years.
“Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel,” read the alert. It advised diplomats and their relatives to remain in safe surroundings at least until May 17.
About 120 U.S. military personnel — both soldiers and civilian employees of the Defense Department — who were in Israel for military exercises were flown out of the country on Thursday, the Pentagon said. The withdrawal did not affect service members or other government employees, including embassy staff, who are usually assigned to Israel.
The embassy itself is contentious, having been moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by President Donald J. Trump three years ago over the strenuous objections of the Palestinians, who saw the change as an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the entire city as its capital. Israel captured the eastern part of the city in the 1967 war, and its occupation is not internationally recognized.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital under a long-proposed two-state solution to the conflict. Most foreign embassies in Israel remain in Tel Aviv, partly because of Jerusalem’s disputed status.
While the Biden administration has pledged a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than that of its predecessor, which heavily favored the Israeli side, there is no expectation the embassy will be moved back to Tel Aviv.
The embassy was part of a jarring juxtaposition when it held a celebratory opening on May 14, 2018. While Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and other American officials were toasting the relocation, Israeli soldiers and snipers were using tear gas and live gunfire to drive back hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza side of the border.
Instagram removed some posts and restricted access to other content that used hashtags related to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after mistakenly associating the name with a terrorist organization, according to an internal company message.
The error, acknowledged by Facebook, which owns Instagram, added a new irritant to the crisis roiling Jerusalem and spreading elsewhere in Israel and the occupied territories. The crisis began over an Israeli police crackdown around the mosque, which is built atop a site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Facebook said in the message that while “Al-Aqsa” often refers to the mosque, “it is also unfortunately included in the names of several restricted organizations.” Although the company did not identify those groups, the State Department has designated the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization, and several other groups with “Al-Aqsa” in their names have had sanctions imposed on them by the United States.
As a result, the company said, some content related to the Aqsa Mosque was mistakenly removed or restricted.
“I want to apologize for the frustration these mistakes have caused,” a Facebook employee who works on the issue of “dangerous organizations” wrote to employees in an internal message that Facebook shared with The New York Times. “I want to reaffirm that these removals are strictly enforcement errors. We understand the vital importance of the Al-Aqsa mosque to Palestinians and the Muslim community around the world.”
The restrictions, previously reported by BuzzFeed News, had fueled criticism that Instagram and other social media platforms were censoring Palestinian voices after a raid by the Israeli police on the mosque left hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers wounded.
Facebook’s internal message said the company was making changes to ensure that the term “Al-Aqsa” by itself does not prompt restrictions or removals.
“These mistakes are painful, erode the trust of our community and there is no easy fix for that,” the Facebook employee wrote. “While I cannot promise that future errors will not occur — I can promise that we are working earnestly to ensure that we are not censoring salient political and social voices in Jerusalem and around the world.”
Twitter, which had also been accused of unfairly blocking Palestinian content, said in a statement that it used a combination of technology and people to enforce its rules.
“In certain cases, our automated systems took enforcement action on a small number of accounts in error through an automated spam filter,” Twitter said in a statement. “We expeditiously reversed these actions to reinstate access to the affected accounts.”
JERUSALEM — When it’s guns doing the talking, Israel’s usual political clamor typically shushes up.
This time? It’s different.
Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, said the conflict “can be no excuse for keeping Netanyahu and his government in place,” He added, “They are exactly the reason why he should be replaced as soon as possible.”
The crisis, in which dozens have been killed, has occurred at a key moment in Israeli politics.
After Mr. Netanyahu failed to form a government following the fourth elections in two years, Mr. Lapid was given his chance. Yet the bloodshed makes Mr. Lapid’s efforts to forge a coalition government both simpler and more difficult.
On one hand, Mr. Netanyahu’s detractors have even more incentive to oust him. But the violence has highlighted the profound differences between the parties of the anti-Netanyahu camp, which span the political spectrum from left to right.
“If the opposing ideologies meant they had one hand tied behind their back,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “now they have both hands tied behind their back.”
President Biden said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” on Wednesday amid escalating fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, and asserted his “unwavering support” for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
“My hope is that we will see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later,” Mr. Biden said in response to questions from reporters.
According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Mr. Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and added that the United States’ position is that Jerusalem be “a place of peace.”
On Thursday, the White House again framed the conflict in terms of attacks carried out by Hamas, and refrained from criticizing Israel.
“I think it’s important to note, I think you’d agree, that these rockets are coming, and these attacks are coming from Hamas and many Palestinian people are being put in danger because of the violence that is happening back and forth,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.
In the call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Biden said that his administration’s national security and defense officials had been and would stay “in constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East.
The White House added that during the phone call Mr. Biden had updated Mr. Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with Palestinian officials and other nations in the Middle East.
The call between the two leaders came on the same day that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke over the phone with Mr. Netanyahu.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s self-defense in a phone conversation with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.
New York City has the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. And while the city’s mayor has no formal foreign-policy powers, the position often affords opportunities to showcase New York’s posture toward Israel.
But wholehearted, uncritical support for Israel is no longer automatic among officials or candidates — a dynamic that has been brought to the fore amid the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Andrew Yang, a leading candidate to be the city’s next mayor, issued a statement early this week saying that he was “standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists,” and adding, “The people of N.Y.C. will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.”
Then came the backlash.
At a campaign stop, Mr. Yang was confronted about his statement and its failure to mention the Palestinians, including children, who were killed in Israeli airstrikes. He was uninvited from an event to distribute food to families at the end of Ramadan.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who has condemned the “occupation of Palestine,” called Mr. Yang’s statement “utterly shameful” and noted that it had come during the Muslim holy month.
Mr. Yang acknowledged that volunteers with his campaign had been upset by his statement. And on Wednesday he released a new one, admitting that his first was “overly simplistic” and “failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering on both sides.”
“I mourn for every Palestinian life taken before its time, as I do for every Israeli,” he said.
His clarification reflects a reality that what was once a given in New York City politics — unquestioning support for Israel — has become a much more complicated proposition for Democratic candidates.