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Violence Escalates Between Palestinians and Israelis

By VOA News May 14, 2021

Violence grew Friday between Israelis and Palestinians, with fighting erupting in the West Bank amid an aerial bombardment in Gaza and unrest by Arabs within Israel.

Across the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police, throwing stones and burning tires, in the largest protests in the region in several years. Palestinian officials reported 11 Palestinians were killed in the violence.

Within Israel, communal violence erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod.

In Gaza, Israel added ground troops at its border with the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, escalating fears that the 5-day-old conflict could tip over into all-out war. The militant group Hamas continued to launch rockets into Israel on Friday while Israel maintained its offensive of artillery and airstrikes against the region.

An Israeli military spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, said the focus of Israel's attack on Gaza was the elaborate system of tunnels that Hamas has built over the years. Israel said it was clearing the tunnels before a possible ground invasion.

Gaza residents near the border with Israel confirmed to Reuters news agency Thursday night that they had seen no sign of Israeli ground forces inside the enclave, but they reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of airstrikes. Some 9,000 Israeli reservists have been called up to join other troops along the border.

Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, who led prayers Friday at al-Aqsa Mosque, told Reuters that the mosque's "sanctity has been violated several times during the holy month of Ramadan" and he described such violations as "unprecedented" since 1967, the year of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. In that war, Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, where the mosque is located, among other still hotly disputed territories.

Health officials in Gaza said 13 people were killed in northern Gaza on Friday — the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr — including a woman and her three children, whose bodies were recovered from the rubble of their home.

Since the fighting began five days ago, at least 122 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 32 children and 11 women, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which added that 900 people have been wounded. Eight Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a 6-year-old boy.

Under the barrage of Israel's attacks, Palestinian families fled their homes on the outskirts of Gaza City. Families arrived at United Nations-operated schools in vehicles, by foot and on donkeys, bringing with them essential items such as blankets and bread.

Also Friday, the Israeli military said three rockets were fired from Syria toward Israeli territory. There were no reports of damage, and there was no immediate comment from Damascus.

The U.N. Security Council has agreed to convene Sunday to discuss the situation, after plans to secure a meeting had been delayed by concerns from the United States.

"The U.S. will continue to actively engage in diplomacy at the highest levels to try to de-escalate tensions," American ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield wrote on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Israel's embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, said in a VOA Persian interview that Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan will tell the Security Council meeting that Israel has been trying to minimize civilian casualties among Palestinians as it fights Hamas.

"The Security Council should not morally equate Israel's defensive military activities with Hamas' indiscriminate war crimes. If we make this equation, Hamas is winning, and we shouldn't let the international community give Hamas that win, and the U.S. is with us on that," Strohmayer said.

Israel has faced international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that if the fighting is not stopped, the conflict could "unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis" and "further foster extremism," according to U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

The U.S. envoy for the region, Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, arrived in Israel on Friday as part of the Biden administration's mediation efforts.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States would use its relationships in the region to try to help end the crisis diplomatically.

In the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh, thousands of Muslims on Friday took to the streets of the capital of Dhaka in protest of Israel's attacks on Palestinians.

Led by activists from the political party Islami Andolan Bangladesh, they began protesting after participating in Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque. They were soon joined by thousands of others.

Bangladesh is among the U.N.'s 28 member states that do not recognize the state of Israel.

Muslims also protested Friday across Turkey at the end of Eid al-Fitr prayers.

The recent violence is the biggest battle between the Palestinian militant group and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza. It was sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.

Global mediation efforts to end the fighting took a significant step forward Thursday when Egyptian security officials met with Hamas leaders in Gaza and with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, according to two Egyptian intelligence officials.

As word of the officials' arrival spread, Hamas fired about 100 rockets toward south and central Israel.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressed his support for Israel's right to defend itself while saying he hoped the fighting would end "sooner than later."

VOA Persian's Kambiz Tavana contributed to this report.

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