Hamas has retaliated to Wednesday’s attack from Israel, launching rocket barrages at southern Israel in the ongoing conflict.
According to reports, Israel was preparing ground troops along the Gaza border on Thursday when Hamas struck.
Sirens blared in Tel Aviv overnight and the sound of rockets being shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome system filled the sky, sending thousands of Israelis to shelters.
By dawn on Thursday, Israel had renewed its air strikes on the Palestinian coastal enclave, destroying a six-storey residential building in the middle of Gaza City.
As world powers reiterate calls for calm, a wave of violence between Jewish Israelis and the country’s Arab minority has continued to spread in several Israeli cities, with attacks on synagogues and Arab-Jewish fighting in the streets.
At least 67 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, according to the enclave’s health ministry. Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions 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.
Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas. Samples were being examined and they had yet to draw any final conclusions, they said.
Amid fears the violence could spiral further out of control, Washington planned to send an envoy, Hady Amr, for talks with Israel and Palestinians.
“My expectation and hope is this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself,” Biden said on Wednesday after speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden did not explain the reasons behind his optimism.
Netanyahu’s office said he told the U.S. president that Israel would “continue acting to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas and the other terrorist groups active in the Gaza Strip”.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings, including high-rises and a bank, which Israel said was linked to the faction’s activities.
Hamas signalled defiance, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying: “The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”