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Israel boosts troops on Gaza border, scrambles to control rioting

By AFP - May 13,2021 - Last updated at May 13,2021

A woman reacts outside a make-shift hospital emergency ward in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday as she mourns relatives killed by an Israeli air strike (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Israel deployed additional troops to Gaza's border Thursday as the military conflict with Palestinian factions raged on, while inside Israel security forces scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs.

Army tanks shelled the Palestinian enclave and AFP reporters saw troops assembling at the security barrier.

"We are prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios," army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, describing a ground offensive as "one scenario".

With the Gaza conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which both Arabs and Jews have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a "massive reinforcement" to suppress the internal unrest.

Despite global alarm and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate Gaza hostilities, which US President Joe Biden said he hoped would end "sooner than later", hundreds of rockets again tore through the skies.

The fourth day of heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza's collapsed buildings.

Israel's air force launched multiple air strikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

In Gaza, 87 people were reported killed since Monday -- including 18 children -- and more than 530 people wounded, with heavy bombardment rocking the crowded coastal strip, bringing down entire tower blocks.

Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home.

The Israeli military said it had hit targets in Gaza more than 600 times and that around 90 percent of the 1,750 rockets fired from the enclave had been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.

'Preventing pogroms'

The military escalation was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The disturbances, in which riot police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis.

Joanna Sassin, 45, surveyed the shattered glass outside her family's ice cream shop in Bat Yam, as she recalled the store being targeted by anti-Arab violence two decades ago.

She had hoped such hostility was confined to history but said, "Sadly, I was mistaken."

A state of emergency has been declared with entry restrictions and a curfew in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where an Arab resident was shot dead and a synagogue torched.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with UN chief Antonio Guterres, where Moscow said it was stated that the "primary task" was "to stop violent actions on both sides".

The UN Security Council, which has held two closed-door videoconferences since Monday, was due to meet Friday to discuss the crisis.

But diplomats said that close Israeli ally Washington had blocked the urgent meeting.

Netanyahu spoke late Wednesday with Biden, who said "Israel has a right to defend itself".

Amid the rocket fire, Israel's civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south.

Hamas announced it had also fired a rocket at Ramon, in a bid to stop all air traffic to Israel.

Israeli media said the rocket missed its target, but a number of international airlines cancelled flights amid the aerial onslaught.

Hamas also said it had launched drones packed with explosives.

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