Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had no plans to relent in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza, as the military kept up its bombardment of terrorists in the Palestinian enclave and rockets rained down on Israeli cities.
“I said we would strike Hamas and other terror groups with significant blows, and we are doing so,” Netanyahu said. “Hamas leaders think they can escape from our grasp. They cannot escape. We can reach them everywhere — all of [Hamas’s] people and we will continue to do so.”
At the same time, reports indicated progress in international mediation efforts aimed at bringing five days of deadly fighting to a halt, even as violence spread to the West Bank and Israel’s northern border, and riots kicked off in the northern part of the country.
Earlier Friday, a Hezbollah operative posing as a Lebanese protester was killed when a small group of demonstrators breached the fence and crossed the border into Israel, prompting Israeli forces to fire warning shots.
Separately, three projectiles were fired from Syria into Israel, falling in an open area in the Golan Heights. No injuries were reported. On Thursday night, three rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed in the sea off the coast of northern Israel.
Meanwhile, fighting also continued inside Israel, where ethnically charged vigilante violence has gripped a number of cities, raising tensions. After midnight on Friday, two Arab children were hurt after a firebomb was thrown into their home in Jaffa on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Police launched an investigation into the incident.
And in Acre, Arab rioters torched the Acre theater which locals regard as a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence in the city.
Riots also broke out in Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Haifa, Umm al-Fahm and other towns in Israel’s north throughout the day Friday.
In Lod, a city home to both Jews and Arabs that has seen some of the worst fighting, police restricted entrance started at 4 p.m. and kept a curfew in place. On Friday evening, police said they shot and wounded a person trying to throw a firebomb towards a municipal hall in the embattled city.
Police said the person was hit in the legs and lightly wounded with a 22-caliber Ruger sniper rifle, which is considered less lethal than standard issue rifles and is sometimes used for riot control.
The Shin Bet security agency said it was aiding police efforts to rein in the bloodshed in the city, calling it “terror for all intents and purposes.”
Since Monday, over 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces, and Israeli troops have responded with heavy fire on Gaza, including an especially heavy bombardment overnight Thursday and Friday aimed at destroying the Hamas terror group’s underground network.
Ten Israelis have been killed by the rocket fire and hundreds more injured, according to authorities. In Gaza, the toll from the fighting rose to 122 killed, including 31 children and 20 women, with 950 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher.
“They attacked our capital, they fired rockets at our cities. They’re paying and will continue to pay dearly for that,” Netanyahu said in public comments following security consultations at the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“It’s not over yet. We will do everything to restore security to our cities and our citizens” he added.
The comments came as the IDF continued to pound Hamas in Gaza, hitting the homes of some of the terror group’s senior commanders and a warehouse used by the group for storing cyber intelligence infrastructure, which officials called one of the group’s most secretive holdings, among other sites. The army also released videos showing strikes against squads readying to launch rockets and anti-tank missiles.
Overnight Thursday-Friday, the Israel Air Force had carried out its biggest bombing operation in Gaza, sending some 160 planes to bomb Hamas’s network of tunnels in the north of the strip.
TV report Friday night said the military believed dozens of Hamas operatives were killed in what the IDF calls the “metro” tunnel network, and that tens of miles of tunnels had been destroyed.
The military said it also launched an airstrike Friday on the office of Hamas internal security chief Tawdiq Abu Naim, which it said was used to run Hamas military operations.
לפני זמן קצר, מטוסי קרב וכלי טיס תקפו שלוש עמדות שיגור תת קרקעיות של ארגון הטרור חמאס בצפון רצועת עזה pic.twitter.com/AOFxVyK98Q
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) May 14, 2021
In southern Israel, rocket alert sirens rang out incessantly Friday as Gaza terrorists took aim at cities with dozens of rockets, some of which managed to penetrate the Iron Dome air defense umbrella, causing some damage and light injuries.
In Sderot, a direct hit by a missile punched a massive hole in an empty home; near Beersheba, a rocket landed on a highway, lightly injuring one person. In Kiryat Gat, rocket alarms interrupted a funeral for a 5-year-old Sderot boy killed as a result of rocket fire on Wednesday.
Terrorists fired massive barrages of dozens of rockets at a time, likely designed to overwhelm Iron Dome. From 7 a.m. to around 9 p.m. roughly 140 launches from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory were identified, the IDF said.
About 30 of them fell in the Gaza Strip, the army said, adding that Iron Dome intercepted dozens of rockets.
After midnight on Friday, a fresh barrage of rockets was fired towards the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ofakim and other communities in the Negev desert, and later Ashkelon and Ashdod, most falling in open areas. One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The IDF said it responded by targeting Hamas launch sites.
Three women were lightly injured while running for shelter, medics said.
Tel Aviv and the heavily populated center of the country got a break from the onslaught on Friday, after days in which Hamas regularly targeted the city, bringing life in Israel’s economic and cultural center to a standstill.
But the West Bank, an area that had remained mostly quiet during the current round of hostilities, saw one of the heaviest outbreaks of fighting in years. Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops at spots across the territory, and soldiers responded in some cases with live fire. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry said 11 people were killed. At least one of those deaths occurred during what Israel said was an attempting car-ramming and stabbing attack.
There were no reports of injuries among Israeli troops, who faced down Palestinians hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. A Hamas spokesperson praised the protests.
“O you free heroes of the West Bank, blessed are your arms. We salute your revolution,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, protesters in Lebanon and Jordan attempted to storm Israel’s border fences. Near the northern Israeli town of Metulla, Lebanese rioters set fires, damaged the border fence and some broke into Israeli territory.
Israel responded by firing tank shells, apparently meant as a warning, but one person was killed. The Hezbollah terror group, Israel’s strongest regional enemy, later confirmed the man was a member, raising fears that a new front in the fighting could open up.
In his comments on Friday, Netanyahu also made a point to thank US President Joe Biden, France President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others world leaders who offered their support.
“They stood for our natural and obvious right to defend ourselves, to act in self-defense against these terrorists who both attack civilians and hide behind civilians,” he said.