Jerusalem and Gaza (CNN) – The Israeli army launched heavy artillery fire and dozens of airstrikes on Gaza in the early hours of Friday, as fears grew of a possible land invasion to quell rocket fire by Palestinian militants.
As Israel bombings rained down, United Nations officials inside Gaza said dozens of people had fled their homes in the north and east of the enclave to seek refuge in schools belonging to the UN aid agency for the Palestinian refugees, who are considered emergency shelters.
A few kilometers away, residents of the Israeli city of Ashkelon fled again to their bomb shelters, while sirens warned of a new avalanche of rockets launched by Palestinian militants from Gaza.
An Israeli woman died in the early hours of Friday after falling while running towards a shelter, the Israeli army reported, making her the eighth Israeli to die since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian militants began to attack. exchange fire last Monday.
Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza has already killed at least 119 people, including 31 children and 19 women, the Gaza-based Palestinian Ministry of Health reported on Friday. At least 830 people have been injured as a result of Israel’s airstrikes this week, the ministry added.
Much of Gaza was without power overnight as a result of the Israeli bombings, a correspondent for the Palestine WAFA news agency reported. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said there had been serious damage to power grids in the north of the strip, as well as parts of Gaza City and elsewhere.
A CNN producer in Gaza reported heavy artillery fire from Israel’s ground forces near the border, in addition to dozens of airstrikes.
CNN also spoke by phone on Friday with Tariq Al Hillo, 27, of Beit Lahia, Gaza, who described a “terrifying” scene during the night, when the buildings surrounding his, in which six families live, were destroyed.
“I can’t even describe it, I don’t know where to start and I’m losing my mind,” he told CNN. “All the buildings around us were totally destroyed yesterday, we saw fragments everywhere. I can still see them now, I can still hear the women screaming and the men crying loudly.
People believed that he would die at any moment, he said. “We lost everything around us and we lost security. I have five sisters, three of them are girls between 10 and 15 years old, they were shaking and looking around in trauma and waiting their turn to be under the rubble.
At 2 a.m., he decided that they should leave the house to walk to the home of relatives who were about five to six miles away, Hillo said. “I was not afraid of dying, but I was afraid that one of my relatives would die,” he said. “On the way I told my sisters to calm down and that nothing would happen to us, but I was shaking and couldn’t even walk because I was terrified.”
On Thursday, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that the country has “many, many more targets” and has no time limit for its military operations against Gaza.
Israel has called up 7,000 army reservists so far, he added. Most analysts believe that the current deployment of a single infantry and armor division is not sufficient to carry out such a major raid.
Amid heavy Israeli artillery fire into Gaza early on Friday, there were reports, later denied, that the Israeli army had launched a possible ground incursion into the territory.
An army tweet, which simply read: “Israel Defense Forces air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” which coincided with the start of a new sustained round of air and artillery strikes, led to many news organizations to report that the ground war, much discussed in the Israeli media on Thursday, had begun.
A clarification came about an hour later. “There are currently no ground troops from the Israel Defense Forces inside the Gaza Strip,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN early on Friday local time.
IDF spokesman Hidai Zilberman had confirmed to Israel Channel 12 News on Thursday that Israel was concentrating troops on the Gaza border in case the leadership decided on a ground incursion, but said it would take time.
“While the enemy is conducting a ground campaign, we say: any ground incursion into any area of the Gaza Strip would, with God’s permission, be an opportunity to increase our quota of enemy dead and prisoners,” said the Izz Brigades ad- Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, in a statement issued Thursday.
Tunnel network in focus
At a press conference on Friday, Conricus said the Israeli army was prepared for “various contingencies” and would continue to fire on military targets in Gaza while defending Israeli civilians against rockets.
Palestinian militants have fired 1,800 rockets into Israel since Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces, of which 430 missed their target. Of these, 190 were shot between 7:00 p.m. on Thursday and Friday morning, 30 of which did not reach the target.
On the night of Thursday to Friday, more than 160 Israeli Air Force, infantry, artillery and armor units from 12 different squadrons struck about 150 targets in underground infrastructure in northern Gaza, the IDF said.
“Many kilometers” of the Hamas “Metro” tunnel network is believed to have been damaged, but the exact extent is still being assessed, Conricus said.
Conricus said the number of “enemy combatants” killed was still being assessed, but had “increased significantly” since the last update, when the number rose to more than 30.
Israel’s anti-missile defense system called the Iron Dome also intercepted another drone launched from Gaza, the second so far, according to the IDF.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians It erupted earlier in the week, fueled by controversy over planned evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem and restrictions imposed on a popular gathering place in East Jerusalem at the start of Ramadan. Since then, the situation escalated quickly to become one of the worst episodes of violence between both parties in recent years.
Riots and violent clashes between Arab and Jewish citizens have spread to several Israeli cities this week, prompting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn against “lynching” either community.
In Bat Yam, south of Jaffa, graphic video on Wednesday night showed a crowd of right-wing Jews trying to lynch an Arab driver. Police say the man was dragged from his car before the assault began.
In Acre, north of Haifa, a lynching attempt by an Arab mob left a Jew seriously wounded, according to Israel police. A police spokesman said the crowd attacked the police officers with stones before attacking the victim with stones and iron bars.
Intercommunal violence was also reported in the Israeli cities of Lod, Tiberias, Umm al-Fahm and Hadera.
International diplomacy efforts appear to have stalled so far. On Sunday morning there will be a meeting of the UN Security Council on violence; The United States blocked previous efforts by the Security Council to meet, preferring direct diplomacy over the conflict rather than discussion in an international forum.
–CNN’s Hadas Gold and Abeer Salman reported from Jerusalem and Ibrahim Dahman from Gaza, while Celine Alkhaldi reported from Amman. CNN’s Eyad Kourdi and Richard Roth contributed to this report.