Israel Readies Ground Troops Across Gaza Border As Bombing Escalates

Israel was preparing ground troops across the Gaza border on Thursday as the country continued to bombard the Palestinian enclave and Hamas persisted with rocket attacks.

The situation marks the most intense fighting between the two sides in recent years.

An Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek that plans for ground entry had been approved, but did not provide a timeline as to when troops would be moved or anymore details on what the planned operation was.

Palestinians in Gaza woke up on Thursday to mark the holy Islamic day of Eid al-Fitr as the bombardment from Israel continued.

This comes as rockets continued to be fired towards Israel by Palestinian militants in the strip. Sirens rung out across the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv overnight, with the majority of rockets fired from Gaza being shot down by Israel's Iron Dome system.

A rocket fired by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza in 2007, hit a civilian neighborhood on Thursday in the city of Petah Tikva, causing injuries and significant damage, the IDF said on Twitter.

The IDF also said it had struck Hamas' main bank and the group's counterintelligence infrastructure, in a 14-storey building in southern Gaza.

More than 1,600 rockets have been fired by Hamas since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza, Israel's military said. The military said its missile defenses have intercepted 90 percent of the rockets.

Around 600 targets inside Gaza have been hit by Israeli air strikes, the IDF said.

An hour ago, a Hamas rocket hit a civilian neighbourhood in Petah Tikva, causing injuries & significant damage.

Troops from our Search & Rescue Brigade are now at the scene providing assistance in the city's time of need. pic.twitter.com/fnbVXOc0E9

— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 13, 2021

As of Thursday morning, Gaza's Ministry of Health said the overall death toll since the start of the latest siege stood at 69—including 17 children, according to reports. More than 390 more people have been wounded in the coastal territory. At least seven Israelis—including one child—have been killed.

Islamic Jihad said seven of its militants were killed, while Hamas confirmed a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is higher than the groups have confirmed.

The rocket strikes have been mainly on southern Israel, but some barrages have hit Jerusalem, some 60 miles from Gaza, and the commercial capital Tel Aviv. It was the first time Jerusalem had been targeted by Hamas since the 2014 war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously called firing at the city a "red line."

Like much of the recent violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, the escalation has been fueled by claims over Jerusalem, which both sides see as their capital.

Violence has flared up over the weekend at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the east of the city. The compound houses a mosque considered the third holiest in Islam, but it is also where the most holy site in Judaism, The Temple Mount, is located.

On Monday, fighting at the site escalated with more than 300 Palestinians wounded when Israeli police stormed the mosque, firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the human cost of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Statista human cost Israel-Palestine conflict
This infographic shows the number of people killed and wounded in Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2008. Statista

Protests erupted in the town of Lod near Tel Aviv on Wednesday in support of the Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa that were injured by police. According to the 2019 census, around 30 percent of the town's population is Arab.

There has been further anger at a threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers.

The international community has called for calm. U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday called for a "de-escalation" between the two sides, but said Israel "has a right to defend itself" against rockets fired from the coastal Palestinian enclave.

Speaking to reporters, Biden said the "hope is that we'll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later."

The White House said in a statement that Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.

The statement said: "He [Biden] conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security and for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians. He also conveyed the United States' encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm."

Palestinians and Israeli troops clash in Hebron
Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces in the city centre of the West Bank town of Hebron, on May 12,2021. Israel was preparing ground troops across the border with Gaza on Thursday as the country continued to bombard the Palestinian enclave and Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israel. Hazem Bader/Getty