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Civil war? Israel lashes out offensive in Gaza despite growing internal tension

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Israeli Army ‘Guardians of the Walls’ operation over the Strip is now entering its sixth consecutive day, with renewed airstrikes and artillery fire

“We are playing a civil war against each other for no reason. Please stop this madness.” The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, thus implored his fellow citizens, Jews and Arabs, to stop the clashes between neighbors who, for the first time in decades of conflict, are tightening the country’s internal seams. 

That has not appeased the Israeli Army’s ‘Guardians of the Walls’ operation over the Gaza Strip, which enters its sixth day in a row with persistent air and ground artillery strikes on Hamas-controlled territory. The shadow of a land invasion against the enclave grows.

At least 120 Palestinians have been killed in the bombings on Gaza, as well as almost a dozen Israelis under constant rocket fire from Gaza. Meanwhile, the aftershocks of the conflict multiply throughout Israel, opening new fronts. Protests in the occupied West Bank, which have already claimed nine Palestinians killed in clashes with the Israeli military, rocket attacks from Lebanon, and, above all, the growing sectarian violence between nationalist Jews and Israeli Arabs in cities in the interior of the country.

“We are dealing with a campaign on two fronts. The first front, Gaza (…) The second, the Israeli cities,” admitted interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

There is no greater threat to the country than these internal problems,” the politician acknowledged. However, Netanyahu insists that he will continue the offensive until he achieves his objectives and rejected a 12-hour truce offer from the Islamist group. 

“We will not let Hamas leaders escape, this [military operation] is not over.”

In one of the largest military operations in recent years, the Israeli Armed Forces intensified their attacks during the day on Friday. More than 160 aircraft, ground forces, artillery and armored troops carried out 50 rounds of 450 missile bombardments on 150 targets in the Strip in just 40 minutes. The objective of the military is to destroy the network of tunnels drilled by Hamas militants to connect Gaza with Israel. Several infantry divisions were deployed in front of the border and, according to an IDF spokesman, it is estimated that they have killed “dozens” of militants.

But in the raid on the Strip, however, numerous civil infrastructures and residential buildings have also fallen. According to the Gazati Ministry of Health, just over 42% of the fatalities are women and children. At least 31 schools and a health center have been damaged by the Israeli bombings, according to the organization ‘Save the Children’.

Political lifeguard

The violent protests in East Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah, the military conflict in Gaza – with the more than 2,000 rockets fired from the Strip at Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – and finally, the fights and lynchings on the streets of Israeli cities have generated a growing sense of internal and external instability. The uncertainty is serving as a political lifeline for Netanyahu, beset by several corruption cases and with waning popularity, who despite winning four elections in two years was unable to form a stable coalition government.

Just as the two top opposition leaders, Yair Lapid and the ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett, were negotiating the first government without Netanyahu since 2009, the violence has blown the talks up. “A strong hand is needed,” Bennet justified himself, explaining that “this is not the time” for a change of government – and even more so if that alternative needs the tacit support of an Islamist party like Ra’am.

However, the deployment of Border Police brigades (a militarized police force) has not managed to stop the episodes of lynching, beatings, assaults on shops, synagogues, or mosques, and ‘hunts’ of Israeli Arabs (20% of the population of the country) to the cry of “death to the Arab” in cities with mixed populations in the interior of Israel. Police Chief Kobi Shabtai has accused the far-right ultra-nationalist Zionist leader Itamar Ben Gvir of fanning the flames of the “internal intifada”, with provocations and anti-Arab and ultra-nationalist demonstrations in East Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah, the neighborhood. where the conflict began with the eviction of several Palestinian families. Ben Gvir is precisely Netanyahu’s next government.

Tension spreads to the West Bank

But the situation continues to escalate: So far, as Gaza erupted and the streets of mixed cities in Israel burned, the West Bank appeared to remain relatively calm. This Friday, the occupied West Bank has been the scene of protests in solidarity with Gaza and Jerusalem, leaving At least nine Palestinians dead.

The protests have also spread to Israel’s external borders. The Jordanian police have had to tear gas at the hundreds of protesters in Jordan marching towards the border trying to reach the military zone at the Allenby Pass, which separates the West Bank from Jordan, in support of the Palestinians. In Lebanon, a crowd managed to temporarily cross the border with Israel, and at least one Lebanese citizen was reportedly shot dead by the Israeli army.

“The Israeli enemy does not stop confirming his brutality. Today he committed a new crime against unarmed protesters in southern Lebanon, and the martyr Mohamed Tahan fell from the bullets of the attack and others were injured,” Inter-Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a short statement. Lebanon is technically at war with Israel, whom it does not recognize, and does not maintain diplomatic relations.

This attempted assault on the northern border of Israel, allegedly perpetrated by Palestinian refugees in the Arab country, joins the firing of three rockets from southern Lebanon to northern Israel on Thursday afternoon, which finally fell without causing personal injury in areas of the Mediterranean coast. 

The Shiite Hezbollah militia has denied responsibility for the attack.

Image Credit: EFE

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