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Fears of 'full-scale war' as Israel-Palestinian clashes kill 50

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Smoke blows from an Israeli air strike on Hanadi compound in Gaza city, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 11, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

TEL AVIV, Israel — Relentless rocket fire and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns fueled growing fears Wednesday that violence between Israel and Palestinians that has claimed 50 lives could spiral into "full-scale war".اضافة اعلان

Palestinians have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel's army, which has launched hundreds of air strikes on Hamas and other groups in the crowded costal enclave of Gaza.

The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 43 people in Gaza, including 13 children, two Palestinians in the West Bank, and five Israelis, triggered by weekend unrest at occupied Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

As world powers voiced growing alarm and the UN Security Council readied for another emergency meeting on the bloody crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that "we're escalating towards a full-scale war".

"Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation," he said, echoing warnings from the international community.

Palestinians and the Israeli army exchanged a barrage of deadly fire in the early hours of Wednesday as intense fighting continued overnight, with UN envoy for Middle East Peace Tor Wennesland warning the two sides were heading "towards a full-scale war".

Israeli police reported two people had been killed after Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they had launched more than 300 rockets into Israel in retaliation for attacks on buildings and civilians.

In response, the Israeli occupation forces said they had launched their largest strike across the Strip since the 2014 Gaza conflict, including targeting the homes of senior Hamas figures.

The heaviest fire in years between the foes has been triggered by violence in occupied Jerusalem, and has killed at least 35 Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip and five people in Israel, as well as wounding hundreds more.

In the crowded, Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza that Hamas controls, 12 children and one woman were among those killed since Monday night.

A further 230 people were reported wounded from the ongoing Israeli air strikes, many rescued from the smoldering ruins of buildings.  

Earlier, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned "this is just the beginning" of Israel's strikes.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed in turn that "if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it".

In Israel, sirens sounded as Hamas rockets rained down, and some of those unable to make it to underground shelters took cover under bridges.

A man and a girl were killed Wednesday in the central city of Lod after a car they were in was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, Israel said.

Earlier, an Israeli woman was killed as rockets hit Rishon Letzion on the coastal city's southern edge, and in Ashkelon, which Hamas threatened to turn into "hell", rockets fired from Gaza killed two women.

At one stage Hamas claimed to have fired more than 100 rockets in under five minutes to overwhelm air defenses.

Israel's army said more than 600 rockets had been fired since Monday from Gaza towards Israel, mainly by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group. 

Many landed inside Gaza or were taken out by Israel's Iron Dome air defense system, but at least 100 Israelis were injured.

The rocket fire forced Israel to suspend flights at its main airport of Ben Gurion, near Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod, which borders the airport, as occupation forces said wide-scale protests erupted among some of the Palestinians in Israel.

Reinforcements were sent to the area after clashes broke out the night after an Israeli Arab was killed in the city.

In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian was killed in clashes with the Israeli army on Wednesday, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

'Everything caught fire'
In Gaza, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-storey building.

Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory, said the tower block had been a residential building. AFP reporters said it also houses the offices of several Hamas officials.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group confirmed they had commanders who had died in the Israeli strikes.

Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Israel estimated it had killed 20 in Gaza, warning that "our expectation is the fighting will intensify".

Asked about unconfirmed reports that Hamas was seeking a ceasefire, Conricus said: "I don't think my commanders are aware, or particularly interested."

Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza on Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw when it hit.

"We were laughing and having fun, when suddenly they began to bomb us, everything around us caught fire," their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.

"I saw my cousins set alight, and torn into pieces," said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears. 

"Why did they leave me? I would have wanted to die as a martyr like them."

Clashes in Jerusalem
Weeks of tensions boiled over when Israeli occupation forces clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Nightly clashes since then at the compound, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, and elsewhere in occupied East Jerusalem have left at least 700 Palestinians injured.

Palestinians clashed again with Israeli forces in riot gear on Tuesday evening, with 245 injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Diplomatic sources told AFP that Egypt and Qatar, who have mediated past Israeli-Hamas conflicts, were attempting to calm tensions.

But Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told an emergency Arab League meeting that although Cairo had "extensively reached out" to Israel and other countries, "we did not get the necessary response".

The UN Security Council was set to discuss the violence at an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

A previous meeting on Monday ended without a joint statement, with the United States expressing reluctance to adopt a draft statement "at this point".

On Tuesday the Organization of Islamic Cooperation reiterated support for Palestinians, condemning "in the strongest terms the repeated attacks by the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people".

Large protests were held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

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