Israel Ramps Up Bombardment of Gaza as Tanks and Troops Mass at the Border

The Israeli military said Friday it launched overnight the most intense bombardment of its five-day military operation in the Gaza Strip, adding tank and artillery fire from the ground to its campaign of airstrikes as the death toll from the crisis continued to rise.

The military said the aim of the strikes, which included the use of 160 aircraft, was to destroy an elaborate network of tunnels underneath residential neighborhoods used by Hamas, the armed group that governs Gaza.

The introduction of ground forces is a widening of the Israeli offensive, which has resulted in the most severe shelling of Gaza since a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014.

Fearing a possible Israeli ground incursion, Palestinian families could be seen fleeing their homes in areas close to the border with Israel, including the town of Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, heading to United Nations schools that would be used as shelters. The U.N. said Thursday that at least 1,750 Gaza residents had been displaced by the shelling.

“This is the first time in my life living something like this,” said a man in Beit Hanoun. “The sky is blood red.”

As the fighting between Israel and Hamas intensifies, violent mob attacks between Jewish and Arab Israelis are spreading inside the country. WSJ’s Dov Lieber reports from Lod where clashes have been especially intense. Photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters

A total of 119 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began earlier this week, including 31 children and 19 women, according to the health ministry in Gaza. At least 830 people have been injured, the ministry said.

Eight Israelis have died, including a soldier killed by an antitank missile and an elderly woman who died while running to a bomb shelter overnight, according to the military. The other Israelis were killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

Israeli ground forces have moved along the boundary with Gaza, but haven’t entered the Palestinian territory, according to Israeli military spokesman

Jonathan Conricus.

The previous night, Mr. Conricus said Israeli troops had entered Gaza but later retracted the statement.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and mortars. During the recent conflict, it has been used to destroy more than 200 rockets bound for Israeli cities. Here’s how it works. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Mr. Conricus said the erroneous announcement of a ground incursion was the result of an internal miscommunication. He said he took responsibility for the mistake.

Palestinian armed groups also fired 55 rockets toward Israel overnight, the military said. None of the missiles was fired toward central Israel, in a shift from previous nights of bombardment, when the shelling reached Tel Aviv and other major Israeli population centers.

U.N. Secretary-General

Antonio Guterres

called for a cease-fire overnight, urging a stop to the fighting out of respect for the current Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Rockets light up the night sky as they are fired toward Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.


mohammed abed/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region,” Mr. Guterres said in a tweet.

Israel has publicly rejected a cease-fire with Hamas, while the militant group has sent mixed signals. Last night, Hamas leader Saleh al-Aruri said in a TV interview that the group had turned down a proposal for a three-hour pause in fighting. Earlier this week, Russia’s foreign ministry said that another Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, was ready for a mutual cease-fire.

The Israeli operation in Gaza has resulted in the destruction of commercial and residential buildings, including high-rise buildings in the heart of Gaza City. Two of the buildings housed the offices of local and foreign news organizations, including London-based broadcaster Al-Araby and Palestinian Authority-affiliated newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Israeli military said the two buildings housed Hamas military and intelligence offices.

Mr. Conricus said the military was taking steps to protect civilians. He declined to say how Israel could safeguard civilians while striking tunnels underneath residential neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

Write to Jared Malsin at [email protected]

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