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Israel In Turmoil: Violence Spreads To Streets And Occupied West Bank

Palestinians walk past the debris of the Al-Sharouk tower in Gaza City, which collapsed after being hit by an Israeli air strike.
Palestinians walk past the debris of the Al-Sharouk tower in Gaza City, which collapsed after being hit by an Israeli air strike.

Airstrikes, rocket attacks and street violence are reaching new levels of intensity in Israel and Gaza, with at least 90 people dead from the unrest as of Thursday. Many large international air carriers have now halted flights to Tel Aviv, a key target of rocket barrages.

The violence has killed at least 103 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including at least 27 children, according to Palestinian health officials. Israeli officials say seven people in Israel have been killed, including two children.

The turmoil is taking many shapes. Israeli warplanes have struck more than 600 sites in Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired more than 1,500 rockets at Israel.

Even in the streets of normally quiet cities in Israel, mobs of Jewish or Palestinian citizens have torched cars and beaten people. Palestinian Arabs make up about 20% of Israel's population.

Israel's airstrikes on Gaza have sometimes struck densely populated civilian areas, and they have destroyed some multi-story residential buildings it says are also used by militants. Palestinians say the Israeli military has warned civilians by phone to evacuate buildings ahead of a strike.

Along with rockets, militants in Gaza have also deployed anti-tank missiles and drones in their attacks. Israel says its Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted many of those strikes.

An Israeli man sits at a restaurant Thursday that was attacked the previous night in Israel's coastal city of Bat Yam. Israel faces an escalating conflict on two fronts, scrambling to quell riots between Palestinian and Jewish citizens on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with militants in Gaza.
Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP via Getty Images
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An Israeli man sits at a restaurant Thursday that was attacked the previous night in Israel's coastal city of Bat Yam. Israel faces an escalating conflict on two fronts, scrambling to quell riots between Palestinian and Jewish citizens on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with militants in Gaza.

Airlines canceling flights to Israel's main international airport near Tel Aviv include United, American and Delta, along with British Airways and Lufthansa.

New unrest is also being reported in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where dozens of Palestinians were wounded in confrontations with Israeli forces, according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA. Israeli soldiers reportedly used tear gas to scatter crowds, as well as firing rubber bullets.

Clashes have only grown more intense since last Friday, when Israeli police in riot gear confronted crowds of Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Tensions were already running high in the city because of a dispute over Israeli settlers' attempts to have Palestinians evicted from homes in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem they have lived in for decades.

A residential building shows extensive damage in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva, Thursday, after being struck by a rocket fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP via Getty Images
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A residential building shows extensive damage in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva, Thursday, after being struck by a rocket fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

It's the worst violence since the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, when thousands were killed during clashes that persisted through the summer.

The chaos comes at a time when Israel is struggling to emerge from a prolonged period of political deadlock. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has enjoyed a record uninterrupted 12 years in office, but he's been unable to form a new government after four inconclusive elections in two years. Netanyahu is also on trial for corruption, in proceedings that began last month.

Last Wednesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on opposition figure Yair Lapid to take a turn in trying to form a new government – but similar attempts have been fraught with difficulties, including ultranationalist Jewish politicians' refusal to join any coalition that includes an Arab Islamist party.

NPR's Daniel Estrin contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.