Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech on Tuesday night that the Palestinians have set a new “balance of power” with Israel after a day of massive rocket attacks on Israel, including an unprecedented 130 rockets fired at central Israel in the evening.
“We have achieved victory in the battle for Jerusalem, the defense of Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said. He later added: “Jerusalem is the axis of conflict.”
Tuesday saw a barrage of missiles over central Israel not seen since 2014, when Hamas and Israel last fought an all-out war. Terror groups launched hundreds of rockets over Israel’s most densely populated areas, with air raid sirens wailing in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and as far north as Netanya.
The escalation began late Monday afternoon, when Hamas fired six rockets toward the Jerusalem area, prompting the brief evacuation of the Knesset plenum, and the suspension of a Jerusalem Day Flag March in the Old City.
Tensions had been rising in the capital since the beginning of Ramadan, with clashes between East Jerusalem Palestinians and Israeli police at the Old City’s Damascus Gate, prompted in part by the pending eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and subsequent heavy clashes around Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
The Hamas leader said that the terror group had been in contact with leaders around the region since events began to escalate in recent weeks.
“There were contacts I held with regional leaders since the recent events broke out in Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate,” Haniyeh said.
International mediators, including Egypt and Qatar, have been seeking to achieve a ceasefire as the conflict has escalated since Monday. But Haniyeh said that Israel was responsible for starting the conflict and must bear its consequences.
“Hamas is ready for every scenario, whether escalation or ceasefire,” Haniyeh said.
But he added that Hamas “would not abandon Jerusalem, nor will we abandon resistance.”
Haniyeh said Tuesday’s “victory” followed success Monday in preventing the annual march of largely right-wing religious-nationalist Jews from following its usual route into the Old City via Damascus Gate and through the Muslim Quarter, and a success days earlier when Israel’s High Court delayed a hearing on the pending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
“What is taking place right now is an honor for our people, our nation,” Haniyeh said. “There is a new balance of power right now.”
A woman in Rishon Lezion was killed and dozens were injured in the rocket onslaught on central Israel. The massive attack caused Israel to briefly suspend flights at its major international airport and cancel schools Wednesday in all areas south of Herzliya.
Rockets also hit the Tel Aviv suburbs of Holon and Givatayim, injuring at least eight people, some of them seriously, police said.
One rocket fell next to a bus in Holon, injuring four people, two of them seriously and two of them moderately. Medics said a five-year-old girl was among the wounded in Holon.
The night was also marked by an eruption of unrest in various cities around Israel with substantial Arab populations. In Rahat, Haifa, Acre and beyond, Arab Israelis clashed violently with police. In Ramle, Jewish residents wielding clubs and rocks sought to stone Arab passersby.
In Lod, three synagogues were set alight by Arab mobs, Channel 12 news said, in a huge eruption of violence. Over 30 cars belonging to Jewish residents were torched by Arab residents, stores vandalized, and petrol bombs thrown into Jewish homes; an Arab Israeli had been shot by a Jewish man on Monday night, in what eyewitnesses said was self-defense against mob violence.
Lod Mayor Yair Revivo called for Israeli military intervention to control the situation Tuesday night, warning the civil war was erupting and comparing the situation to the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom.
“Gaza and Jerusalem and the 1948 areas are moving together,” Haniyeh said, in remarks apparently relating to the upsurge in violence in the Israeli Arab sector.
Meanwhile, Israel continued to strike targets in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said that the Israeli military had struck over 500 targets since the beginning of hostilities on Monday.
The Hamas-run health ministry said 30 Gazans were killed, including 10 minors, and 203 wounded in the ongoing escalation with Israel. Fifteen Gazans sustained serious injuries, according to Hamas health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra. Israel said more than half of the fatalities were Hamas fighters.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said a number of those killed in Gaza, including at least three children, were hit by errant rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists, not by Israeli airstrikes.
The IDF spokesperson said Israel was taking steps to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, but that they were liable to occur as Hamas deliberately operates within a densely populated area, using the residents of the Strip as human shields.
Zilberman said the fighting was expected to last at least several days.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the IDF would continue striking Hamas and other terrorists in the Strip until “long-term and complete quiet” is restored. Gantz also threatened Hamas’s leadership, saying its commanders would “be held responsible and pay the price for the aggression.”