JERUSALEM: The Israeli army clarified on Friday morning that its troops had not entered the Gaza Strip as it had previously stated, accusing an “internal communication” problem of being responsible for the confusion.
Just after midnight, the military sent a message to the media saying that troops were in the Gaza Strip, and this was confirmed to AFP by the army spokesman.
“Planes and Israeli troops on the ground are carrying out an attack in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in a brief message.
Army spokesman John Conricus confirmed the escalation without specifying the scale of the operation.
“We are ready and continue to prepare for various scenarios,” said Conricus, describing a ground offensive as “a one-time scenario”.
Earlier Thursday, Israel said it was massing troops along the Gaza border and calling in 9,000 reservists ahead of a possible ground invasion of Hamas-ruled territory as the two bitter enemies draw closer to all-out war .
While visiting a rocket defense battery, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the troops to prepare for a prolonged campaign against Hamas. “It will take longer, but … we will achieve our goal – to restore peace to the State of Israel,” he said.
In Gaza, AFP photographers said people were evacuating their homes in the northeastern part of the enclave ahead of possible Israeli attacks, with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, warning of a “Severe response” to a possible land incursion.
Two hours later, after announcing the entry of ground troops into the Palestinian enclave, the military issued a clarification that there were “no soldiers” in Gaza.
The theft continued nonetheless, with Israel bombarding Gaza with artillery and airstrikes on Friday in response to a further barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled enclave, in an intensification of a conflict that has now claimed the lives of more than 100 Palestinians.
Gaza’s health ministry said the death toll rose to 103 Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, with 530 people injured.
Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have confirmed 20 dead in their ranks, although Israel claims the number is much higher. Seven people were killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy.
Israeli security forces were also scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, and projectiles were fired from Lebanon.
Images early Friday showed large balls of flame turning the night sky orange in densely populated Gaza, as rockets were seen tracing the air towards Israel.
The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict as the global body’s secretary-general called for “an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities.”
“Too many innocent civilians have already died,” tweeted Antonio Guterres. “This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism across the region.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence on the streets of Israel,” and the State Department urged citizens to “reconsider their trip to Israel.”
Several international airlines – including KLM, British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa and Iberia – have canceled flights amid the air assault.
In Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including a six-year-old, after a rocket hit a family home.
The IDF said it hit targets in Gaza more than 600 times as 1,750 rockets were fired from the enclave.
Hundreds of rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Three rockets were also fired from southern Lebanon into Israel, landing in the Mediterranean, the IDF said.
A source close to Israel’s nemesis, Hezbollah, said the Lebanese Shiite group had no connection with the incident.
The military escalation was sparked by the weekend unrest in the grounds of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
The unrest, in which riot police repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, was fueled by anger over the impending evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Rising tensions have sparked clashes in many mixed cities of Israel where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up around 20% of the country’s population.
Almost 1,000 border police have been called in to quell the violence and more than 400 people have been arrested.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said inter-communal violence in several cities was at levels not seen in decades and that the police were “literally preventing pogroms”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the police were increasingly using force, warning against the “option” of deploying soldiers in cities.
Far-right Israeli groups clashed with security forces and Israeli Arabs, with TV footage showing on Wednesday a far-right crowd beating a man they saw as an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv , leaving him seriously injured.
In Lod, which has become the flashpoint of Arab-Jewish clashes this week with an Arab resident shot and a synagogue set on fire, a gunman opened fire on a group of Jews on Thursday, injuring one.
Netanyahu said the violence was “unacceptable”.
“Nothing justifies the lynching of the Arabs by the Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of the Jews by the Arabs,” he said, adding that Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.
The escalating fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab crowds clashing in the city of Lod. The fighting took place despite a reinforced police presence ordered by the country’s leaders.