Death toll climbs as Palestinians flee Israeli fire in Gaza

ITV News Senior Senior International Correspondent John Irvine on the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine as Palestinians fled from their homes

Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in the West Bank on Friday, Palestinian health officials have said. The health ministry says most were killed in stone-throwing clashes with Israeli forces in several locations, while one was killed during an attempt to stab an Israeli soldier. The health officials said some 100 Palestinians were injured, most of them by live fire. The West Bank violence comes as Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of tank fire and airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing a family of six in their home. Israel said it was clearing a network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.

As a result of the assault, Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City.

ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo explains how each side has misunderstood and underestimated their opponent before adding cease fire could happen in a few days time

Israel has also massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists following days of fighting with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 air strikes, toppling at least three apartment blocks.

As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war, despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel has erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod.

A man inspects the damaged wall of a residential building hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip Credit: AP

The Gaza Health Ministry said the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women. It added that 830 have been wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks. However, Israel insist that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a six-year-old boy. Before dawn on Friday, Israeli tanks and warplanes carried out an intense barrage on the northern end of the Gaza Strip.

In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced the building to rubble, residents said. Sadallah Tanani, a relative, said the family was wiped out from the population register" without warning.

"It was a massacre. My feelings are indescribable," he said.

Houda Ouda recalled that her family frantically ran indoors in their hometown of Beit Hanoun, in an attempt to find shelter as the earth shook for two-and-half hours.

Palestinian relatives mourn members of the Tanani family who were killed following Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip Credit: AP

“We even did not dare to look from the window to know what is being hit,” she said.

When daylight came, she witnessed the destruction outside: streets cratered, buildings crushed, dust and powered concrete covering everything.

Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds.

It was part of a large operation that also involved air strikes and was aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and air strikes, which the military refers to as "the Metro".

"As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties," he said.

"Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that wasn’t feasible this time."

Thousands packed into 16 UN-run schools for shelter, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, the UN relief agency for Palestinians.

Palestinians inspect their destroyed houses following overnight Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for ceasefire talks that showed no signs of progress.

Saleh Aruri, an exiled senior Hamas leader, told the satellite channel Al Araby that his group has turned down a proposal for a three-hour lull.

He said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.

The fighting broke out late on Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem. The move was in support of Palestinian protests there against the policing of a flashpoint holy site and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes.

Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing massive explosions across the densely populated territory.

Rockets fired by Gaza militants have brought life in parts of southern Israel to a standstill, and several barrages have targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 45 miles away from Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the operation, saying in a video statement that Israel would "extract a very heavy price from Hamas".

In Washington, US president Joe Biden said he spoke with Mr Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant over-reaction".

He said the goal now is to "get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks".

He called the effort "a work in progress".

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.

It says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.

Hamas has showed no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 120 miles into southern Israel. The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at the southern Ramon airport. Hamas has also launched two drones that Israel said it quickly shot down.

The fighting cast a pall over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, normally marked by family gatherings and festive meals. Instead, the streets of Gaza were mostly empty.

The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem. A focal point of clashes was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, to be the capital of their future state.

The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed cities across Israel has meanwhile added a new layer of volatility to the conflict not seen in more than two decades.