Israel strikes lead to 26 Palestinian deaths, while Hamas rockets kill two Israelis

Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in Gaza City, May 11, 2021. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

A confrontation between Israel and Hamas sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem escalated Tuesday. Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza, killing over 25 Palestinians, while militants barraged southern Israel with hundreds of rockets, killing two Israelis.

Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians — including nine children and a woman— were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, health officials there said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants.

Two women were killed by rockets fired from Gaza that hit their homes in the southern city of Ashkelon — the first Israeli deaths in the current violence. At least 10 other Israelis have been wounded since Monday evening.

After those deaths, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said officials decided to “increase both the strength and rate of the strikes” against militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas will receive blows now that it didn’t expect,” he said.

Egypt was trying to broker a cease-fire, but the cycle of violence was gaining momentum. Even before the two Israeli deaths, the Israeli military said it was sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and the defense minister ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve soldiers.

The barrage of rockets and airstrikes was preceded by hours of clashes Monday between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including dramatic confrontations at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims.

The current violence, like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising, has been fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, which is at the emotional core of the long conflict.

In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians. It was one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.

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