(Update: updates headline, raises death toll, adds info)
Jerusalem, May 13 (EFE).- The worst escalation of violence in the last seven years between Palestinians and Israelis has claimed the lives of at least 83 Palestinians, with several hundred more wounded, while violent riots are spreading through the streets of Israel’s cities, particularly those with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.
Amid the unrest, Israel on Thursday deployed more troops in anticipation of a potential ground operation in Gaza, as the barrage of rocket fire from the enclave and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on the Strip that began on Monday continued.
“We have ground units that are ready and are in various stages of preparation for ground operations,” said Jonathan Conricus, military spokesman.
“We are prepared to expand our operations because we see that Hamas (the Islamist movement that controls Gaza) aren’t getting the message yet.”
Israel has also ordered the mobilization of 10 reserve units of the border police militarized to support security forces in the face of heavy riots by the Israeli Arab population, with cases of lynchings and clashes between Arabs and Jews that have spread to several cities in the midst of violence around Gaza.
After a heavy night of airstrikes which destroyed many properties, the nearly 2 million residents of Gaza were forced to stay confined to their houses.
But despite the danger of walking outside with no protection from possible airstrikes, hundreds of Palestinians left their homes to bury the militiamen who lost their lives this week.
Since the simmering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians erupted again on Monday, 83 people have been killed and nearly 500 have been wounded. The dead include 17 children and seven women.
The rubble and destruction in the streets of Gaza bears the hallmarks of the images of previous wars in 2008, 2012 and 2014, the most recent major flare-ups between Israel and Hamas.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has called up reserve troops to deal with the rioting in cities with large Arab populations. The main hotspot has been the ethnically mixed town of Lod, where a state of emergency has been declared.
President Reuven Rivlin described the incidents as “a civil war without reason” and called on local and religious leaders to help stop the violence.
The unrest that began on Monday came in the wake of clashes over the weekend between Israeli security forces and hundreds of Palestinians who were protesting coronavirus restrictions in place that limited religious gatherings, despite it being the height of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar.
Palestinians had also been staging daily rallies to protest the proposed eviction of Palestinian families from their homes near East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.
On Monday, an Israeli nationalists’ march to mark Jerusalem Day — originally scheduled to pass through Muslim areas of the Old City — had to be rerouted over fears the parade would be targeted.
Jerusalem Day commemorates Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a potential future independent state, but Israel views the whole of the city as its own “eternal and indivisible” capital. EFE