United Kingdom

Israeli president denounces 'bloodthirsty Arab mob' as riots spread after Gaza strikes

Israel's president on Thursday denounced "bloodthirsty Arab mobs" after rioting by Arab-Israelis spread across Israel following lethal exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes over the Gaza border. 

Israel was facing serious unrest in several major cities after pumelling Gaza with airstrikes that killed dozens, including at least 14 Palestinian children.

It came as Hamas rockets rained down on cities including Tel Aviv, killing at least six Israelis and prompting speculation that a third Intifada, or uprising, may be under way.

A state of emergency was declared in the central city of Lod following riots by Arab-Israelis that saw schools, synagogues and cars set ablaze in Jewish neighborhoods.

As the wave of violence spread to cities including Haifa, Acre and Ramla, Hamas militants continued to fire hundreds of rockets and Israel kept bombing the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.

The death toll was nearly 60 by late Wednesday, including six Israelis and at least 53 Palestinians. Around 15 children, all but one Palestinian, were believed to have died, as well as several top Hamas commanders. 

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were expected to continue on Wednesday night, as Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, warned that the operation was far from over.

Israeli police chiefs were already drawing comparisons on Wednesday between the riots and severe unrest in 2000 that heralded the Second Intifada, a mass Palestinian uprising against the Jewish state that lasted for five years. 

In Lod, a city with a significant Arab Israeli population, Jewish families on Wednesday morning were clearing debris from the fire-ravaged interior of a local school as the stench of burned rubber and plastic wafted through the air. 

The building had been attacked with Molotov cocktails by a group of around 30 masked Arabs, according to Jewish families in the area.

"I am a former soldier, I was not scared then, but when I looked out the window I knew that if I went outside I would be killed," Yedidya Harris, a 28-year-old father-of-two, told The Telegraph.

A fire rages at sunrise in Khan Yunish following an Israeli airstrike on targets in the southern Gaza strip
Israeli air raids in the Gaza Strip have hit the homes of high-ranking members of the Hamas militant group Credit: YOUSSEF MASSOUD /AFP

At least a dozen cars, a synagogue and a school were torched during the riots overnight Tuesday.

"The sight of the pogroms in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob, injuring people, damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces is unforgivable," Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, said in an unusually strong statement on Wednesday. 

"We have not seen this kind of violence since October 2000," Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai said of Lod, referring to Arab unrest that preceded the Second Intifiada.

During a visit to Lod on Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, said: "We will not tolerate this; we need to restore calm. If this isn't an emergency situation, I don't know what is. We are talking about life and death here."

Some Palestinian residents in the neighbourhood blamed much of the violence on Israeli settlers who they claimed had disguised themselves as Arabs.

Soldiers inspect a building in Ashdod, southern Israel, damaged by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip
Soldiers inspect a building in Ashdod, southern Israel, damaged by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip Credit: AVI ROCCAH /REUTERS

"These are Palestinian cars," said Mohammed, 30, as he pointed to a row of torched vehicles in Lod. "The settlers came dressed as Arabs and burned the cars."

Separately in Acre, a coastal city famed for its status as a Templar stronghold during the Crusades, the popular Jewish-owned restaurant Uri-Buri was set ablaze.

The nationwide unrest was spurred on by ongoing fighting between militants in Gaza and Israel. 

Israel announced on Wednesday that it had destroyed weapons manufacturing sites used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group in the Gaza Strip. 

It also said a separate strike had killed several high-ranking Hamas commanders, including the head of the Gaza City military division, Bassem Issa. His death was confirmed by Hamas.

Israel carried out hundreds of strikes targeting Hamas in response to an unprecedented barrage of 130 rockets that were fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv and the surrounding area on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday evening, Palestinian officials said the death toll had reached 53, including 14 children, while at least 300 had been injured. 

The brother of a Palestinian boy killed during airstrikes in the Gaza Strip cries during his funeral
The brother of a Palestinian boy killed during airstrikes in the Gaza Strip cries during his funeral Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM /REUTERS 

Gazans who posted footage online of huge explosions in urban areas, as plumes of smoke rose over the city. Many people had to be rescued from the remains of smouldering buildings.  

Five members of a single family were killed in an airstrike on Tuesday, it emerged.

"We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire," said a relative, Ibrahim, 14.

"I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces," he said as he broke down in tears.

Israel saw six casualties from Hamas rocket fire that killed one woman in a suburb south of Tel Aviv, two women in the southern city of Ashdod, and two people in Lod.

Israeli artillery near the Gaza border
Israeli artillery near the Gaza border Credit: ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In the Tel Aviv suburb, Rishon LeZion, the victim's house had been caved in by a rocket that set several cars in the street ablaze.

Residents told The Telegraph the rocket launch had led to a second casualty in their neighbourhood, as a woman died from a heart attack during the barrage.

Konstantin Kandaurov, a 48-year-old software engineer, said he was watching a football match in his living room when he heard the sirens screaming.

"As soon as the explosion [happened] the cars started burning," he said, adding that it was his first experience of a rocket attack.

The Israeli military said that more than a thousand rockets had been fired by Hamas towards Israel since their operation against Hamas, Guardians of the Wall, began on Monday.

The operation was triggered by a Hamas rocket launch on Jerusalem on Monday. 

Placeholder image for youtube video: q7nfYOYLcTU

Hamas said that was partly in retaliation for hundreds of Palestinians being injured during clashes with Israeli police at the revered al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem.

Another factor that escalated tensions was an Israeli plan to evict around a dozen Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and replace them with settlers. 

A court hearing due to take place on Monday was postponed after the al-Aqsa clashes. A new date will be set in the coming weeks. 

The mother of Palestinian Rasheed Abu Arra, who was killed during clashes with Israeli forces, mourns her son alongside other women, in the town of Aqqaba near Tubas, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 12, 2021
The bombardment has traumatised thousands of Gazan civilians Credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA /REUTERS

In a statement on Twitter, Boris Johnson called on both sides to "step back from the brink" and to "show restraint."

"The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions," he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday reiterated his urging for a halt to violence in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The secretary reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence," said a State Department statement.

"The secretary emphasised the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security."

Joe Biden, the US president, has so far not spoken out directly on the matter.

Placeholder image for youtube video: K6YKgF5OoR8

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court also voiced concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians and said "crimes" may have been committed.

"I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute," which founded the ICC, Fatou Bensouda said on Twitter Wednesday.

A Palestinian woman mourns over her son Rasheed Abu Arra, who was killed in clashes with Israeli forces, during his funeral in the Village of Aqqaba near the West Bank town of Tubas
A Palestinian woman mourns over her son, killed in clashes with Israeli forces, during his funeral in the village of Aqqaba near the West Bank town of Tubas Credit: Majdi Mohammed /AP

In Russia, president Vladimir Putin said the world needed to give Israel a "strong" lesson.

"Serious concern was expressed about the continuing clashes and the growing number of people killed and wounded," the Kremlin said in a statement.

A man stands by his burning car during clashes with Israeli Arabs and police in the Israeli mixed city of Lod
A man stands by his burning car during clashes with Israeli Arabs and police in the Israeli mixed city of Lod Credit: Heidi levine /AP

And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said her government "condemns these incessant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli cities in the strongest terms", saying they "could not be justified".

"Israel has the right to self-defence against these attacks," he said.

Torah scrolls, Jewish holy scriptures, are removed from a synagogue which was torched during violent confrontations in the city of Lod, Israel 
Torah scrolls are removed from a synagogue which was torched during violent confrontations in the city of Lod, Israel  Credit: RONEN ZVULUN /REUTERS

Football news:

Scotland coach Clarke: There were a lot of good moments during the group stage, but no points scored
England are the most boring group winners in history. Two goals were enough! And at the World Cup, the Italians once became the first even with one
Dalic - to the fans after reaching the Euro playoffs: You are our strength, and we will be your pride
Modric became the youngest and oldest goalscorer in Croatia at the Euro
Czech Republic coach Shilgava: We came out of the group and fought with England for the first place. We got what we wanted
Gareth Southgate: England wanted to win the group and continue to play at Wembley-and it succeeded
Luka Modric: When Croatia plays like this, we are dangerous for everyone