The worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years intensified on Saturday, as an Israeli airstrike destroyed a prominent high-rise building in Gaza City that housed media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
The Israel Defense Forces said its fighter jets struck the media tower because it also contained military assets belonging to Hamas. The I.D.F. said it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building to allow evacuation.
The attack followed an Israeli airstrike overnight that killed at least 10 members of an extended family in a refugee camp in Gaza, after which Hamas militants aimed another round of rockets at Tel Aviv.
The attacks occurred after a senior American envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Jerusalem to help broker a cease-fire. Mr. Amr, the United States deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, was scheduled to meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
But while Hamas and Israeli officials signaled late Friday that they were open to discussing a cease-fire, fighting continued unabated for much of Saturday, even as American, Egyptian and Qatari attempted to negotiate a pause in fighting.
At least 12 people were killed overnight in Gaza, Palestinian medics said on Saturday morning. And for the fifth consecutive day on Friday, Hamas rockets had targeted Israeli towns.
The Israeli military said it had killed dozens of high-ranking Hamas commanders and damaged the militant group’s network of tunnels beneath Gaza, significantly weakening Hamas.
It was not clear whether such losses were the reason a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, told Al Jazeera in a Friday night interview that the group would decide whether to negotiate a “calming” in the fighting under certain conditions. Israel, Mr. Barhoum said, must meet unspecified demands about “lifting its hand” from Gaza and the sites of clashes in Jerusalem, including the Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli security officials said they would be open to cease-fire talks, according to the Israeli news media.
The health ministry in Gaza that said at least 139 people had died in Israeli airstrikes and shelling, 39 of them children, with about 1,000 injured. Those numbers could not be independently verified. The United Nations said 10,000 Gazans had left their homes to take shelter in schools, mosques and other places. In Israel, the hostilities have left seven civilians, including a 5-year-old boy, and one soldier dead.
Power in Gaza was down to five hours a day in some places, and water came out of the pipes only once every few days. Any efforts to contain what had been a worsening coronavirus infection crisis all but ceased.
In Israel, the always-fraught notion of coexistence between Arabs and Jews seemed to be cracking amid the burning apartments and synagogues, the thrown stones and homemade bombs.
The crisis has pushed concerns about Israel’s political gridlock off the table and could benefit the shaky career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while also giving momentum to Hamas.
An Israeli airstrike that hit a house in a Gaza refugee camp overnight killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, seven of them children, according to Palestinian officials and local news reports on Saturday. A 5-month-old boy was pulled from the rubble alive.
Palestinian officials said the house had been struck with no warning.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that they had “attacked a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials, in an apartment used as terror infrastructure in the area of the Al-Shati refugee camp.”
The Qassam Brigades — the armed wing of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza — said on Saturday that it was hitting Tel Aviv with rockets in response to the “massacre against women and children” in the camp.
Shati, a crowded refugee camp north of Gaza City along the Mediterranean coast, is also home to Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader who was born there in the early 1960s. It was unclear whether the airstrikes were aimed at him.
With its jumble of buildings and alleyways beside the sea, Shati — the third-largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps — is also known as Beach camp. Initially home to 23,000 refugees who fled Lydd, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva and other areas of Palestine in 1948, the camp has since grown to house more than 85,000 people. All of them reside in an area of about a fifth of a square mile, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as Unrwa, which works with Palestinian refugees.
Overnight, Al Jazeera broadcast video of rescue teams using earth-moving trucks to clear the rubble. Rescue workers climbed around the rubble in search of survivors, while graphic footage showed medics retrieving the victims’ bodies.
The father of three of the children who died, whom local television channels identified as Abu Suhaib, told reporters that his wife and their five sons had gone to visit her brother for Eid al-Fitr, the feasting holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. His wife and their children Suhaib, 14; Abdelrahman,8; and Wissam, 5, were killed. Yahya, 11, was still missing. He only had Omar, the 5-month-old, left.
“They were sleeping in their homes,” he told Shehab, a news agency linked to Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. “They weren’t holding weapons, they weren’t firing rockets and they weren’t harming anyone.”
Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times
Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hosam Salem for The New York Times
Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Gideon Markowicz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hosam Salem for The New York Times
A new round of deadly violence erupted in the Middle East this week, as Israeli airstrikes hit targets in Gaza, and the militant group Hamas launched rockets at cities inside Israel.
The convulsions in Israel and the Palestinian territories were injected with an additional source of angry emotion on Saturday as the Palestinian diaspora and its supporters commemorated Nakba Day, denoting the 1948 displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s declaration of independence.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians and their supporters protest what Palestinians call the nakba, which means disaster, the term used to describe the upheaval 73 years ago when the state of Israel was created.
In November 1947, the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Mandatory Palestine, as the region was known when under British control. The plan, accepted by Jews and rejected by Arabs in the territory, would have created separate independent Jewish and Arab states with an international regime to oversee Jerusalem. Immediately after the resolution’s acceptance, war broke out between Jews and Arabs.
Until 1998, no one day was singled out by the Palestinians to commemorate and protest what happened, although many used the occasion of Israeli Independence Day to mark the events.
As Israel prepared elaborate celebrations for its 50th anniversary that year, the Palestinian Authority president, Yasir Arafat, decreed that Palestinians should have their own day of remembrance: May 15, which was the day after Israeli independence in 1948. (The Israeli holiday, based on the Hebrew calendar, does not fall on the same day every year under the Gregorian calendar. This year, Israeli Independence Day was in mid-April.)
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which was created to help the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, now provides aid and services to 5.7 million Palestinians and their descendants in camps in the occupied territories adjoining Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were joined on Saturday by activists around the world who view Israeli policies as increasingly oppressive. A Facebook post by the Palestinian Youth Movement advertised North American rallies scheduled for 22 cities. Demonstrations were also planned in Africa, Europe and elsewhere.
As the week of deadly violence in the Middle East has unfolded, Britain experienced a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, a charity said on Saturday as officials across Europe braced for protests.
The Community Security Trust, a charity that records anti-Semitic threats, said it had received more than 50 reports of Jews across Britain being threatened and verbally abused in the past week — a 490 percent increase from the previous seven days. It said it believed that many more attacks had gone unreported.
Offensive phrases and slogans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been shouted at Jewish people of all ages, including children, said Dave Rich, the charity’s director of policy. “When the conflict in Israel reaches this level of intensity, we always see increases in anti-Semitic incidents,” he said.
The police in England and Wales are also conducting investigations after graffiti of swastikas, “Free Palestine” messages and anti-Semitic terms were found sprayed on property this week, including on the door of a synagogue in Norwich in eastern England.
The synagogue’s leader, Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake, told the BBC that the community’s initial reaction was “shock and horror,” but that “our response to this is not one of hate, but one of love.”
Marches in support of Palestinians have taken place in London and other English cities in recent days, with a march in England’s capital city on Saturday attracting thousands of protesters. But elsewhere in Europe, France banned a pro-Palestinian protest planned for this weekend in Paris, citing the “sensitive” international context and the risk of acts of violence against synagogues and Israeli interests in the French capital.
The organizers of the Paris march vowed to press ahead despite the ban. “We refuse to silence our solidarity with the Palestinians, and we will not be prevented from demonstrating,” they said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
In Germany, where protesters this week attacked synagogues, burned Israeli flags and marched through the streets chanting slurs against Jews, law enforcement officials prepared for several demonstrations in Berlin on Saturday and said that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.
The Arab world has broadly condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and Israeli police raids this week on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Leaders have spoken out, protests have taken place, social media is aflame.
But at the government level, the condemnation so far is largely rhetorical. Since 2014, when Israel mounted a seven-week offensive into Gaza, the region’s concerns have shifted, with new fears about Iran’s influence and a growing recognition by Arab nations of the reality of Israel.
Even those countries that normalized relations with Israel last year — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — have all openly criticized Israeli policies and called for support of the Palestinians and the defense of Jerusalem. The escalation of violence has put a great strain on those governments, which had argued that their closer relationship with Israel would help restrain Israeli actions aimed at Palestinians.
“I have not seen any Arab state that has not expressed support for the Palestinians on a rhetorical level, and it would be very difficult for them to say anything otherwise,’’ said H.A. Hellyer, a scholar of Middle East politics at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “But what they do about it is very different.’’
Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, is little loved by governments in the Sunni Arab world, but its loud messaging that it was firing rockets at Israel in defense of Jerusalem struck a chord, said Khaled Elgindy, director of the Palestine program at the Middle East Institute. Gaza is one thing, he said, but “Jerusalem is important for the Arab League and for clear stakeholders, like the Jordanians and the Saudis,’’ who are the guardians of the holy places of Islam.
Egypt and Jordan, which have long had diplomatic relations with Israel, are deeply engaged in trying to de-escalate the conflict, but also must be wary of domestic public anger. Qatar, which bankrolls Hamas in Gaza, has also tried to mediate; its foreign minister has held talks with both the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and the U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
The Arab League is pressing for an emergency debate in the U.N. Security Council, which the United States has put off until at least Sunday. The Arab League needs to keep in front of the debate on Jerusalem, the analysts agreed, and not cede the field to Hamas.
When the Israeli military suddenly announced after midnight on Friday that its ground forces had begun “attacking in the Gaza Strip,” several global news outlets, including The New York Times, immediately alerted readers that a Gaza incursion or invasion was underway.
Within hours, those reports were all corrected: No invasion had taken place. Rather, ground troops had opened fire at targets in Gaza from inside Israeli territory. A top military spokesman took responsibility for the error, blaming the fog of war.
But by Friday evening, several top Israeli news organizations were reporting that the mistaken announcement was no accident, but a deception.
The intent, the media reports said, was tricking Hamas fighters into believing that an invasion had started — and to react in ways that would make them more vulnerable to a furious attack by 160 Israeli jets.
The military’s English-language spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, insisted that the false announcement had been his honest mistake, based on his misunderstanding of information coming in “from the field.”
But Israel’s Channel 12 news station called the spread of misinformation to foreign journalists a “planned ploy.”
The possibility that the military had used the international news media to kill fighters in Gaza prompted sharp objections from several news organizations.
“If they used us, it’s unacceptable,” said Daniel Estrin, N.P.R.’s correspondent in Jerusalem. “And if not, then what’s the story — and why is the Israeli media widely reporting that we were duped?”
SDEROT, Israel — It was 1:30 p.m. on Friday in Sderot, and Ido Avigal, 5, was being laid to rest a few miles to the north. He had been killed in what officials termed a freak incident two days earlier when a rocket from Gaza made a direct hit on the building next door to his aunt’s apartment, where he was visiting with his mother and older sister.
When that rocket struck on Wednesday evening, he was sheltering in a fortified safe room meant to protect residents from this exact threat. But a piece of shrapnel managed to puncture the thick, steel shutter and the thick glass window of the shelter, mortally wounding the boy. Ido’s mother and his sister were also injured while inside the room.
It was the first such case of a death in a fortified safe room that military officials could recall.
In the current round of fighting, which began on Monday, Gaza militant groups have fired more than 2,000 rockets into Israel, with more than 600 aimed at Sderot, the Israeli military said. Israel has pummeled Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes and artillery fire.
On Friday, Palestinian officials said 120 people had been killed in the attacks, including 31 children in Gaza. On the Israeli side, seven civilians, including Ido, and one soldier had been killed, Israeli officials said.
In the early 1990s, after Israel came under attack by Scud missiles from Iraq, all newly built homes were required to be constructed with a safe room made from reinforced concrete. Built to technical specifications that have been upgraded over the years, the protective spaces are supposed to withstand blast and shrapnel from conventional weapons, as well as offer some protection against chemical and biological attacks. These rooms include windows since they also serve as a functional part of the home.
An initial investigation found that the safe room where Ido was hiding had been built to the proper specifications, according to Colonel Dayan. The penetration by the shrapnel was probably caused by the angle at which the rocket hit, he said, adding that the only new recommendation for now was to sit low down in safe rooms, below the window line.
At Ido’s funeral on Friday, his father, Asaf Avigal, eulogized him. “I’m sorry I did not take the shrapnel in your place,” Mr. Avigal said, according to Israel’s N12 news channel. “A few days ago, you asked me: ‘Dad, what will happen if the siren goes off while we are outdoors?’ I told you that so long as you were with me you would be protected. I lied.”
There is no simple answer to the question “What set off the current violence in Israel?”
But in an episode of The Daily this week, Isabel Kershner, The New York Times’s Jerusalem correspondent, explained the series of recent events that reignited violence in the region.
In Jerusalem, nearly every square foot of land is contested — its ownership and tenancy symbolic of larger abiding questions about who has rightful claim to a city considered holy by three major world religions.
As Isabel explained, a longstanding legal battle over attempts to forcibly evict six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem heightened tensions in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of violence.
The always tenuous peace was further tested by the overlap of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with a month of politically charged days in Israel.
A series of provocative events followed: Israeli forces barred people from gathering to celebrate Ramadan outside Damascus Gate, an Old City entrance that is usually a festive meeting place for young people after the breaking of the daily fast during the holy month.
Then young Palestinians filmed themselves slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jew, videos that went viral on TikTok.
And on Jerusalem Day, an annual event marking the capture of East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, groups of young Israelis marched through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to reach the Western Wall, chanting “Death to Arabs” along the way.
Stability in the city collapsed after a police raid on the Aqsa Mosque complex, an overture that Palestinians saw as an invasion on holy territory. Muslim worshipers threw rocks, and officers met them with tear gas, rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades. At least 21 police officers and more than 330 Palestinians were wounded in that fighting.
Listen to the episode to hear how these clashes spiraled into an exchange of airstrikes that has brought Israeli forces to the edge of Gaza — and the brink of war.