Israel, Hamas Intensify Lethal Exchanges


Fatalities mount as escalating conflict bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

GAZA/JERUSALEM-Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated on Wednesday, with at least 50 killed in Gaza and the West Bank, and five in Israel in the most intensive aerial exchanges for years.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza into Wednesday morning, as the Islamist group and other Palestinian militants fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire on Tuesday and early on Wednesday. The death toll in Gaza rose to 48 Palestinians, including 14 children, according to the health ministry. Two more deaths were reported in the West Bank. More than 300 people from both sides have been wounded, according to Agence France-Presse.

One multistory residential building in Gaza collapsed and another was heavily damaged after they were repeatedly hit by Israeli airstrikes.

Israel said its jets had targeted and killed several Hamas intelligence leaders early on Wednesday. Other strikes targeted what the military said were rocket launch sites, Hamas offices and the homes of Hamas leaders.

It was the heaviest offensive between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war in Gaza, and prompted international concern that the situation could spiral out of control.

In another sign of widening unrest, demonstrations erupted in Arab communities across Israel, where protesters set dozens of vehicles on fire in confrontations with police.

The United Nations' Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland warned the two sides were heading "toward a full-scale war".

The UN Security Council planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days on Wednesday on the escalating violence, an indication of growing international concern.

Wennesland was expected to brief the 15 council members virtually at the closed meeting, which is being called at the request of China, Tunisia and Norway.

The three countries proposed a draft statement at Monday's meeting expressing "grave concern" at escalating tensions and calling on Israel to cease evictions.

Gazans' homes shook and the sky lit up from Israeli attacks, outgoing rockets and Israeli air defense missiles intercepting them. At least 30 explosions were heard within a matter of minutes just after dawn on Wednesday.

Israelis ran for shelters or flattened themselves on pavements in communities more than 70 kilometers up the coast and into southern Israel amid sounds of explosions as interceptor missiles streaked into the sky.

                                                                                                                   -------------China Daily News