Israel deploys more troops at Gaza border as violence continues to spread

13 May 2021, 23:21 | Updated: 14 May 2021, 00:24

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By Patrick Grafton-Green

Israel has called up 9,000 more reservists as days of violence in Gaza and Israeli cities show little sign of ceasing.

It comes despite Egyptian negotiators holding talks with the two sides in an effort to calm hostilities.

Artillery and tank shells began falling into Gaza on Thursday evening, with Palestinian witnesses saying scores of families have been forced to flee their homes, while militants continue to fire rockets into Israel.

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The use of artillery fire by Israel increased the likelihood of civilian casualties.

Gaza's Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 103 Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, with 530 people wounded.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher.

Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a six-year-old boy.

An Israeli soldier arms artillery shells next to an artillery unit at the Israeli-Gaza border
An Israeli soldier arms artillery shells next to an artillery unit at the Israeli-Gaza border. Picture: PA

Israel's defence minister has approved the mobilisation of 9,000 more reservist troops, and Israel's military spokesman said forces were massing on the border with the Gaza Strip.

The military's chief spokesman Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman said forces were "preparing the option of a ground manoeuvre".

He told Israeli public television station Kan that tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery were being readied "for this option for mobilisation at any given moment".

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Previous fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, including a devastating 2014 war, was largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier.

But this round seems to be rippling farther and wider than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Palestinians sombrely marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday as militants fired one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carried out waves of air strikes.

In Gaza's southern town of Khan Younis, dozens of mourners marched through the streets carrying the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old killed when an air strike hit near their home on Wednesday.

The wreckage of a large apartment complex by the ongoing Israeli airstrikes in Beit Lahia, Gaza
The wreckage of a large apartment complex by the ongoing Israeli airstrikes in Beit Lahia, Gaza. Picture: PA

A visit by Egyptian security officials was a significant development in international mediation efforts, which have been key to ending past rounds of fighting.

The officials met first with Hamas leaders in Gaza before holding talks with the Israelis in Tel Aviv, two Egyptian intelligence officials said.

But even as word came of the mediators' presence, Gaza militants fired a volley of some 100 rockets nearly simultaneously, raising air raid sirens around southern and central Israel.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

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While some rocket attacks have reached the Tel Aviv area, Arab and Jewish mobs have rampaged through the streets, beating people and torching cars.

Flights have been cancelled or diverted away from the country's main airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited batteries of the Iron Dome missile defence system, which the military says has intercepted 90% of the 1,200 rockets that have reached Israel so far.

"It will take more time, but with great firmness... we will achieve our goal - to restore peace to the state of Israel," he said.