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Two men have been wounded and taken to a local hospital in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, following a barrage of rockets from Gaza. The Israeli emergency medical service Magen David Adom said a man in his 50s was in serious condition and taken in for treatment due to shrapnel in his stomach.
Another man in his 90s was in stable condition and taken in for treatment due to a head injury.
Palestinians in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Hebron and Jenin staged massive rallies in solidarity with Gaza, according to Palestinian local media. The Palestinian Safa Press Agency tweeted a video of a march in Nablus against the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.
Police in Nablus are using gas canisters to disperse the crowds, the Al-Jazeera Mubasher channel has reported.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all sides to commit to a ceasefire out of respect for the ongoing Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“Out of respect for the spirit of Eid, I appeal for an immediate deescalation and cessation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel,” Guterres tweeted. “Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.”
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic faith. Muslims typically celebrate the holiday by congregating for prayer and eating a special meal, among other practices.
The UN Security Council said it will publicly discuss the escalating situation on Sunday.
An earlier tweet from the IDF about its military operations towards Gaza appeared to cause confusion over whether its troops had actually entered the Palestinian enclave.
Two hours after issuing the tweet, the IDF published a clarification that there was an “internal communication” problem, and said there were “no soldiers” in Hamas-controlled areas of Gaza.
“There are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip. IDF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip,” the clarification said.
Israel has asked citizens in towns that lie within four kilometers (roughly 2.5 miles) of Gaza’s border to head to bomb shelters. These citizens are expected to stay in the shelters until further notice.
Israel said it has deployed troops to the Gaza Strip late Thursday, but the extent of their operations is unclear.
“IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a tweet.
IDF spokesperson John Conricus confirmed an operation involving ground troops in comments to AFP news agency.
When asked by Germany’s DPA news agency about the operation, an IDF spokeswoman would not say whether troops had actually entered the Gaza Strip, of if they are carrying out operations from the Israeli side of the border.
Early Friday morning saw some of the heaviest artillery fire and airstrikes on Gaza since hostilities began.
A new barrage of rockets from Gaza followed the IDF announcement. Rocket alarms went off across southern Israel in the cities of Ashdod and Beersheba early Friday, with Hamas saying it shot off 50 rockets toward the area, the Times of Israel newspaper reported.
Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that military operations against Hamas would “go on as long as possible” and that Hamas would “pay a very high price.”
An Israeli tank fires in the direction of the Gaza Strip Thursday afternoon
A Hamas spokesperson late Thursday warned that the Israeli military would suffer heavy casualties if it’s troops entered Gaza.
Earlier Thursday, chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said troops were massing along the Gaza border for a possible ground operation. He said tanks, armored vehicles and artillery were being prepared “for mobilization at any given moment.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday he had approved the mobilization of an additional 9,000 reservists, two days after the army mobilized 5,000 reservists.
Israeli troops last entered the Gaza Strip in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge against Hamas.
wd/wmr (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)