(Update 1: Updates lede, death toll, adds details in pars 1-6, edits throughout)
Jerusalem, May 12 (EFE).- The exchange of airstrikes and rocket fire between militant groups in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli Armed Forces continued throughout the night into Wednesday in the worst escalation of violence in recent years, and as the United Nation’’ Middle East envoy warned of “full-scale war.”
The Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad have launched more than a 1,000 projectiles since Monday, while the Israeli Armed Forces have bombed Gaza, including a tower block in Gaza City used by Hamas’ political leadership on Tuesday.
The conflict has resulted in the deaths of at least 35 Palestinians, 12 of them minors, while five Israelis have been killed, with the latest two overnight – a man in his 40s and his teenage daughter, who died in a rocket attack outside the central city of Lod, according to a police spokesman.
Air-raid sirens sounded throughout the night in Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip, the south of Bersheva, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and other points in the center of the country.
In the past hours, Hamas militants have launched more than 850 rockets from the coastal enclave of Gaza against Israeli territory, in addition to 200 unsuccessful launches, while Israel has carried out more than 500 bombings, according to the Israeli army.
It added Wednesday that it is acting “under the same guidelines as in [the 2014 conflict]” against the Palestinian militias in Gaza.
In the early hours of Wednesday, during the escalation of violence that began early Tuesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, demanded both sides “stop the fire immediately.”
“We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of deescalation. The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people (…) Stop the violence now,” he wrote on Twitter.
His message came after UN Secretary General António Guterres said the “spiraling escalation must cease immediately.”
“Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force. The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres is unacceptable,” said Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement.
On Tuesday, al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement, had anticipated that they would fire at Tel Aviv if Israel attacked the well-known 14-story Hanadi tower block in the heart of Gaza City, which houses the offices of spokesmen and members of the Hamas political ranks. That building was bombed Tuesday afternoon.
One of the largest bursts of fire Tuesday totaled 137 rockets in a matter of minutes, some of which hit the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, north of Gaza, and which were among the most affected communities.
A high percentage of projectiles fired from Gaza was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
In addition to the bombardments against militant facilities, Israel carried out targeted attacks against high-ranking members of the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and estimates that it killed at least 20 militiamen.
During the day, dozens of fighter jets attacked militants to prevent the firing of rockets and anti-tank missiles, and attacked an underground tunnel from where a Hamas unit tried to cross into Israel, according to Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.
The army also announced that it increased the intensity of the retaliation, as had already been anticipated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned Hamas that it would receive “a severe blow.”
The violence between the sides began on Monday due to riots and protests in Jerusalem, which have spread to Arab communities in Israel, where demonstrations flared up again Tuesday. EFE