© Reuters. US President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccination program at the White House in Washington, USA, May 12, 2021. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub
GAZA / JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel's commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel continued a bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave's border.
The four days of cross-border violence showed no sign of subsiding, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign would "take more time".
The violence has also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict.
Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out in the streets of some communities, prompting the Israeli president to warn of the danger of civil war.
Concerned that the region's worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr. The ceasefire efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far shown no signs of progress.
During renewed air strikes on Gaza, Israeli fighter jets hit a six-story apartment building allegedly owned by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave. Netanyahu said Israel had hit nearly a thousand militant targets in Gaza in total.
According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, 87 people, including 18 children and eight women, were killed and 530 others injured. This is another strain on hospitals that were already under severe pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are facing Israel and Covid-19. We are between two enemies," said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker who stood next to a road that was damaged during the air strikes. A power pole had collapsed on the road and its wires were cut.
A Palestinian missile had previously crashed into a building near the Israeli trade capital Tel Aviv and injured five Israelis, the police said. The Israeli military said seven people have been killed in Israel since hostilities began.
Israel was preparing combat troops along the Gaza border and was in "various stages of preparation for ground operations," said a military spokesman, a move that would commemorate similar incursions during the Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009 .
The spokesman for the Hamas armed wing, Abu Ubaida, responded defiantly to the buildup and called on the Palestinians to rise.
"Massage yourself from sea, land and sky as you wish. We have prepared for your kind of deaths that would make you curse yourself," he said.
Gaza health officials said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled toxic gas.
US President Joe Biden said he hoped the fighting would "end" sooner rather than later.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a video call to appeal for an end to the fighting.
"The main goal is to stop acts of violence from both sides and to ensure the safety of the civilian population," the Kremlin said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron also called for a "final rollback" in negotiations between the two sides, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an "urgent de-escalation" of violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to strike against the military capabilities of Hamas and other Gaza groups. Hamas is viewed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings that Israel said were linked to the group's activities.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during the Muslim month of Ramadan in retaliation for clashes by Israeli police with Palestinians near the Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem.
The hostilities have opened a new front by fueling tensions between Israeli Jews and the country's 21% Arab minority who live by their side in some communities.
Jewish and Arab groups attacked people overnight, damaging shops, hotels and cars. In Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jews beat and kicked a man believed to be an Arab while he was lying on the ground.
One person was shot and seriously wounded by Arabs in the city of Lod, where the authorities imposed a curfew. According to police, over 150 people have been arrested in the cities of Lod and the Arab cities in northern Israel.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to "this madness".
"We are at risk from missiles being fired at our citizens and streets, and we are dealing with a pointless civil war among us," he said.
A number of foreign airlines have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.
Deaths in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker.
The Israeli military said around 400 out of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions fell short, potentially killing some Palestinian civilians.
The conflict has resulted in Netanyahu's opponents freezing talks on forming a ruling coalition to oust him after the inconclusive elections in Israel on March 23.
Although the recent problems in Jerusalem were the immediate catalyst for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated with setbacks in their quest for an independent state in recent years, including Washington's recognition of the controversial Jerusalem as Israel's capital.