Gaza City — Weary Palestinians on Thursday prepared for a somber feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan asand communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.
The latest outburst of Mideast violence has reached deeper into Israel than any since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Arab and Jewish mobs are rampaging through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars, and flights are being diverted from the country’s main airport.
The last three wars between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round of fighting which, like the intifada, began in Jerusalem, seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.
Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of a month of daylong fasting, is usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.
But in Gaza, residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air. Since the rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled two high-rise apartment buildings housing Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, urged the faithful to mark communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open, as is traditional.
Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”
“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman told the Reuters news agency. That was reminiscent of Israeli moves during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
“The Chief of Staff is inspecting those preparations and providing guidance. … We have a division headquarters and three maneuver brigades down in Gaza preparing themselves for that situation and for various contingencies,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.
Rocket attacks and airstrikes continue
Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about to the north, for a second straight day.
Israel has 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.
The Israeli military says more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza. Israel’s missile defenses have intercepted 90% of the rockets. Israeli airstrikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.
The Israeli army shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva early Thursday, apparently sparking a large fire. It said the strike wounded people and caused significant damage.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.
A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday. Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a…