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Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Mideast on verge of war?

Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since a 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with dozens killed and no resolution in sight.

Palls of gray smoke rose in Gaza, as Israeli airstrikes levelled two apartment towers and hammered the militant group’s multiple security installations, destroying the central police compound.

In Israel, barrages of hundreds of rockets fired by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants at times overwhelmed missile defences and brought air raid sirens and explosions echoing across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 48 Palestinians, including 14 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. More than 300 people have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women. Six Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire, and dozens of people were wounded.

While the rapidly escalating conflict has brought images familiar from 2014 Israel-Hamas war, the past day has also seen a startling new factor: A burst of fury from Israel’s Palestinian citizens in support of those living in the territories and against Israel’s recent response to unrest in Jerusalem and its current operations in Gaza.

Amid those protests, communal violence erupted in several mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli cities, including the burning of a Jewish-owned restaurant and a synagogue, the fatal shooting of an Arab man and attacks on Arab-owned cars. In a rare move that highlighted the tensions, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday ordered units of border guards deployed to help police keep order.

There was no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time.” Hamas has called for a full-scale intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising began in 2000 and lasted more than five years.

Late Monday, Hamas, claiming to be “defending Jerusalem,” launched a barrage of rockets at the city in a major escalation.

The Israeli military said militants have fired more 1,050 rockets since the conflict began, with 200 of them falling short and landing inside Gaza. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.

Israel has struck hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.

The fiercest attack was a set of airstrikes that brought down an entire 12-story building. The building housed important Hamas offices, as well as some businesses. Israel fired a series of warning shots before demolishing the building, allowing people to flee and there were no casualties.

Israeli aircraft heavily damaged another Gaza City building early Wednesday. Israel said the nine-story building housed Hamas intelligence offices and the group’s command responsible for planning attacks in the occupied West Bank; it also had residential apartments, medical companies and a dental clinic. A drone fired five warning rockets before the bombing.

At one point Wednesday, Hamas fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba in what it said was retaliation for some of the strikes.

Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, aged 3 to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.

“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.



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