Benjamin Netanyahu Promises Israel Will Use 'An Iron Fist' to End Arab Protests

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Wednesday that Israel will use "an iron fist if needed" to end protests by the country's Arab citizens after he deployed Border Police forces to the cities of Lod and Acre to calm chaos that has been erupting for days.

Violence has spread across the region as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates after taking place at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque with Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants engaged in heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip over the past few days over a years-long fight over Jerusalem.

Israel will "stop the anarchy and restore governance to the cities of Israel, with an iron fist if needed, with all forces needed and all authorities required," Netanyahu said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin blamed the "silence of the Arab leadership" in Israel for unrest within the country taking place in mixed Jewish-Arab communities and added it is "encouraging the rupture of the society."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Rockets Launched Towards Israel
Rockets are launched toward Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 12, 2021. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday promised that an "iron fist" will be used to end Arab protests. Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Palestinian militant group Hamas has confirmed that its Gaza City commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday.

Bassem Issa was the highest-ranking military figure in Hamas to be killed in Israel since 2014. Wednesday's statement was the first time Hamas acknowledged the death of militants in this round of fighting with Israel.

The armed wing of Hamas said Issa was killed "along with a few of his fellow brothers of leaders and holy fighters" during the fighting that has been going on for two days in Gaza.

Israel's internal security agency said a series of airstrikes had killed Issa and several other senior Hamas militants, including the head of rocket development and cyber warfare, the head of rocket production, and the Hamas engineering chief.

Issa and several other commanders responsible for the different districts of the Gaza Strip formed Hamas' military council, the highest body deciding on the group's militant operations. The military council is headed by Mohammed Deif.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to see an "urgent de-escalation of tensions" between Israel and Hamas amid the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

Johnson tweeted on Wednesday that the United Kingdom is "deeply concerned" and urged leaders to "step back from the brink."

He was one of many leaders around the world offering up advice after longtime tensions in contested Jerusalem erupted into rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip and an intense response from Israel.

British Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly told Parliament that Britain "unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and other locations in Israel." He called Hamas' conduct "terrorism" and called on militants to "end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel."

Cleverly said Israel has a "legitimate right to self-defense," but added that in doing so, "it is vital that all actions are proportionate, in line with international humanitarian law and make every effort to avoid civilian casualties."

Israel's firefighting service says it has almost completely extinguished a blaze at a petroleum facility in southern Israel that was set alight by a rocket fired by Hamas militants.

The rocket landed Tuesday night near a Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures Ltd. facility south of Ashkelon during a major barrage by Gaza militants. The result was a massive fire in a storage tank that blazed through the night and into Wednesday.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services said that 20 teams have been working for 25 hours to extinguish the inferno that issued a column of thick black smoke. Israeli state-owned Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures said the fuel had been transferred to another storage facility.

On Wednesday, the plume of smoke was still rising over Ashkelon. Israeli health and environment officials have instructed residents of the area to avoid prolonged periods outdoors.

Rivlin says the country's Arab leaders are "giving support to terrorism and rioting" by staying quiet about an outbreak unrest in mixed communities.

Rivlin said on Wednesday that the "silence of the Arab leadership" over violence in mixed Jewish-Arab communities amounts to "encouraging the rupture of the society" amid the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

Rivlin says Israel "must pursue the rioters with a firm hand (to) restore security and order to all of us, also while fighting terrorism from Gaza without compromise."

The unrest comes after Hamas called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old Arab Israeli and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday when a rocket landed in the courtyard of their one-story home.

Lod also saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man who was killed the previous night, the suspect a Jewish gunman. Israeli media reported that the crowd fought with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles on fire.

The Israeli military says it has killed several senior Hamas militant commanders in airstrikes in Gaza and Khan Younis.

The army released a statement on Wednesday, saying that it carried out a "complex and first-of-its-kind operation." Those targeted, it said, were "a key part of the Hamas 'General Staff'" and considered close to the head of the group's military wing.

Hamas had no comment.

Widespread protests by Arab citizens have resulted in injuries, arrests, and property damage.

The mounting unrest comes after weeks of violence in Jerusalem and heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in recent days. The fighting is rooted in a long dispute over contested Jerusalem. After Hamas rained rockets inside Israel on Monday, the conflict suddenly erupted and increasingly resembles the 2014 Gaza war.

 Israeli Soldier Stands Guard
An Israeli soldier stands guard next to an Iron Dome air defense system as smoke rises from an oil tank on fire after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza Strip, near the town of Ashkelon, Israel, on May 12, 2021. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo