Israel military set to approve plans for Gaza ground invasion as world leaders urge calm

A fireball engulfs the Al-Walid building, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City (AFP)

Bel Trew

The Independent  /  May 13, 2021

Military said it had moved troops to Gaza border in preparation for possible ‘ground operations’

The Israelmilitary is set to approve on Thursday plans for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, as overnight it intensified its strikes on the blockaded strip where militants fired back dozens of rockets.

Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, a Hebrew spokesman for the army, told Israeli media that the details are being drawn up by Gaza Division and Southern Command ready to be presented to Israel’s political leadership for sign off, the first step in taking such an action.

Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an English language spokesman would not comment on whether a ground invasion would be imminent when asked by The Independent but said that additional troops, including infantry and armoured brigades, had been moved to areas on the Gaza border.

He said this was battle procedure for “preparing themselves for ground operations”.

The death toll in the cross border flare up continued to surge with Gaza’s health ministry saying that 83 Palestinians, including 17 children, had been killed in Israel’s bombardment. In Israel seven people have lost their lives, including three women, two children and a soldier.

Israel said that of the dead in Gaza, over 30 were militants.

Against the backdrop of a potential imminent war between Israel and Gaza, violence flared inside Israel between Arab [Palestinian] citizens, who have long felt discriminated against by the state, and Jewish Israelis, as well as the police force.

Horrific images of near-lynchings by both sides were shared by media outlets, as chaos raged through multiple cities across the country. Israel’s president warned of a civil war and appealed all sides to “please top this madness”.

Footage of a near lynching of a presumed Arab man by a crowd of Israelis in Bat Mat, near Tel Aviv, was broadcast live on air by several channels.

In the footage crowds continuing stamping on his blood soaked body as he lay motionless on the ground.

Israeli police told The Independent that they were investigating the incident and that the man was still alive.

Meanwhile in the city of Acre, in northern Israel, Israeli media said that a Jewish citizen in his 30s was left in a critical condition after being attacked by a mob of Arab demonstrators armed with sticks and rocks.

Israel’s public broadcaster Kann News shared mobile phone footage of the brutal incident which shows the victim, curled up on the street as crowds flog him with sticks.

The Independent was not able to get an immediate comment from the police on that incident.

There were numerous other reports of violence including a Palestinian man who was stabbed beside a Jerusalem marketplace.

In the restive town of Lod, some 30km north of Gaza, The Independent witnessed fierce clashes between citizens, with the police firing stun grenades and tear gas while rocket sirens blared in the background.

An Arab citizen was shot dead there on Monday.

His family members, who shared video footage of the incident, said he was killed by Jewish Israeli citizens at a protest. A Jewish suspect has been held.

The Israeli police force said more than 370 people had been arrested.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the violence amounted to “anarchy”, adding: “Nothing can justify an Arab mob assaulting Jews, and nothing can justify a Jewish mob assaulting Arabs.”

Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” of Border Police forces to “cool off” a wave of violent attacks in cities across Israel.

He called the violence “no less dangerous than the Hamas rockets”.

“We must not win the Gaza battle and lose at home,” he added.

The international community has expressed dismay at the eruption of violence, and the United Nations has warned that Israel and Gaza were on the verge of an “all-out war”.

The US has sent a senior diplomat to the region and President Joe Biden held a phone call with Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday night.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK is demanding Hamas stops its rocket attacks as he said de-escalation is the “only way” to stop casualties and deaths in the region.

“The simple truth is that the only way they can minimise civilian casualties is for the weapons to stop,” he told BBC Breakfast. “That’s why we demand Hamas to stop flying the rockets and we are encouraging a de-escalation so that Israel does not feel the need to make military strikes into Gaza.”

Over 1,600 rockets have rained down on Israel, according to the army which said it had struck more than 600 “targets” in the blockaded enclave including rocket manufacturing and storage facilities as well several multi story residential buildings, drawing criticism from rights groups.

Lt. Col Conricus said the high rise blocks, one of which is believed to house Palestinian media organisations, were “legitimate military targets”.

But Human Rights Watch said it might constitute collective punishment against innocent civilians, as they questioned the military purpose in “destroying the homes of hundreds of civilians and the livelihoods of people who run or who work in small businesses located in these buildings”.

Israel has also begun diverting some incoming flights from Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, to the Ramon airfield in the country’s far south, the Transportation Ministry said.

Several flights have also been cancelled in recent days.

Bel Trew – Middle East Correspondent, in Jerusalem