Hamas and Israeli officials signaled late Friday that they were open to discussing a cease-fire amid global calls for peace and frantic diplomacy aimed at heading off a further fracturing in one of the Middle East’s most intractable struggles.
American, Egyptian and Qatari officials have been trying to broker a cease-fire, with the United States deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, landing in Tel Aviv on Friday.
But the violence, which has metastasized with startling velocity compared with previous Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, was finding new footholds and threatening Israeli society in ways not seen before.
By Friday evening, Israel faced furious demonstrations in at least 60 places across the West Bank and new protests just across the borders with Jordan and Lebanon, all atop street violence between Arabs and Jews within Israel and the continuing battle with Gaza militants led by Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s legitimacy.
At least 12 people were killed overnight in Gaza, Palestinian medics said on Saturday morning. And for the fifth consecutive day on Friday, Hamas rockets targeted Israeli towns.
The Israeli military said it had killed dozens of high-ranking Hamas commanders and damaged the militant group’s network of tunnels beneath Gaza, significantly weakening Hamas.
It was not clear whether such losses were the reason a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, told Al Jazeera in a Friday night interview that the group would decide whether to negotiate a “calming” in the fighting under certain conditions. Israel, Mr. Barhoum said, must meet unspecified demands about “lifting its hand” from Gaza and the sites of clashes in Jerusalem, including the Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli security officials said they would be open to cease-fire talks, according to the Israeli news media.
The health ministry in Gaza that said at least 139 people had died in Israeli airstrikes and shelling, 39 of them children, with 950 injured. Those numbers could not be independently verified. The United Nations said 10,000 Gazans had left their homes to take shelter in schools, mosques and other places. In Israel, the hostilities have left seven civilians, including a 5-year-old boy, and one soldier dead.
Power in Gaza was down to five hours a day in some places, and water came out of the pipes only once every few days. Any efforts to contain what had been a worsening coronavirus infection crisis all but ceased.
In Israel, the always-fraught notion of coexistence between Arabs and Jews seemed to be cracking amid the burning apartments and synagogues, the thrown stones and homemade bombs.
The crisis has pushed concerns about Israel’s political gridlock off the table and could benefit the shaky career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while also giving momentum to Hamas.
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — Violence erupted between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators in cities and towns across the West Bank on Friday, with 11 Palestinians killed and more than 200 injured, about 20 of them seriously, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Clashes took place in and around Ramallah, Jericho, Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron and several other locations across the region. Arab and Israeli news media reported that demonstrators threw rocks and lit fires, and that Israeli troops responded with gunfire and tear gas, with one person shot while attempting to stab a soldier.
The health ministry said most of the injuries were caused by live gunfire.
In all, it was the worst and most widespread bloodshed on the West Bank in a week of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
People in the Palestinian town of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, said that the violence was started by Israelis from nearby settlements, who entered the town accompanied by soldiers and set fire to shops while Muslims were at Friday Prayer.
“They also threw stones at houses and they were saying death to the Arabs and we don’t want you next to us,” said Mohammad Amira, whose brother was wounded by gunfire.
After weeks of demonstrations by Arabs in Jerusalem, Israeli police raided the Aqsa mosque there, one of the holiest sites in Islam, injuring hundreds of protesters and enraging many Palestinians. The focus of the unrest quickly shifted to rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli bombardment of that territory, where most of the casualties have been, and then to the West Bank on Friday.
“It’s because of Jerusalem and the Aqsa mosque,” said Jihad Khalil, who lives in Ni’lin. “The Aqsa mosque is a red line.”
There were scattered reports of clashes in other places far from Gaza, as well. A few rockets were fired at the Golan Heights from Syria. And at a pro-Palestinian protest in Lebanon, on Israel’s northern border, a man was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier when he tried to cross a security fence, according to Lebanese authorities.
Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which directs much of the violence aimed from there at Israel. Hamas is implacably opposed to Israel and stockpiles rockets and other weapons with aid from Israel’s enemy, Iran.
The West Bank is a very different story. It is under Israeli military occupation and partially governed by the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates closely with Israel and often works to suppress anti-Israel unrest.
Rami Nazzal and
The convulsions in Israel and the Palestinian territories were injected with an additional source of angry emotion on Saturday as the Palestinian diaspora and its supporters commemorated Nakba Day, denoting the 1948 displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s declaration of independence.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians and their supporters protest what Palestinians call the nakba, which means disaster, the term used to describe the upheaval 73 years ago when the state of Israel was created.
In November 1947, the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Mandatory Palestine, as the region was known when under British control. The plan, accepted by Jews and rejected by Arabs in the territory, would have created separate independent Jewish and Arab states with an international regime to oversee Jerusalem. Immediately after the resolution’s acceptance, war broke out between Jews and Arabs.
Until 1998, no one day was singled out by the Palestinians to commemorate and protest what happened, although many used the occasion of Israeli Independence Day to mark the events.
As Israel prepared elaborate celebrations for its 50th anniversary that year, the Palestinian Authority president, Yasir Arafat, decreed that Palestinians should have their own day of remembrance: May 15, which was the day after Israeli independence in 1948. (The Israeli holiday, based on the Hebrew calendar, does not fall on the same day every year under the Gregorian calendar. This year, Israeli Independence Day was in mid-April.)
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which was created to help the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, now provides aid and services to 5.7 million Palestinians and their descendants in camps in the occupied territories adjoining Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were joined on Saturday by activists around the world who view Israeli policies as increasingly oppressive. A Facebook post by the Palestinian Youth Movement advertised North American rallies scheduled for 22 cities. Demonstrations were also planned in Africa, Europe and elsewhere.
The Arab world has broadly condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and Israeli police raids this week on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Leaders have spoken out, protests have taken place, social media is aflame.
But at the government level, the condemnation so far is largely rhetorical. Since 2014, when Israel mounted a seven-week offensive into Gaza, the region’s concerns have shifted, with new fears about Iran’s influence and a growing recognition by Arab nations of the reality of Israel.
Even those countries that normalized relations with Israel last year — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — have all openly criticized Israeli policies and called for support of the Palestinians and the defense of Jerusalem. The escalation of violence has put a great strain on those governments, which had argued that their closer relationship with Israel would help restrain Israeli actions aimed at Palestinians.
“I have not seen any Arab state that has not expressed support for the Palestinians on a rhetorical level, and it would be very difficult for them to say anything otherwise,’’ said H.A. Hellyer, a scholar of Middle East politics at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “But what they do about it is very different.’’
Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, is little loved by governments in the Sunni Arab world, but its loud messaging that it was firing rockets at Israel in defense of Jerusalem struck a chord, said Khaled Elgindy, director of the Palestine program at the Middle East Institute. Gaza is one thing, he said, but “Jerusalem is important for the Arab League and for clear stakeholders, like the Jordanians and the Saudis,’’ who are the guardians of the holy places of Islam.
Egypt and Jordan, which have long had diplomatic relations with Israel, are deeply engaged in trying to de-escalate the conflict, but also must be wary of domestic public anger. Qatar, which bankrolls Hamas in Gaza, has also tried to mediate; its foreign minister has held talks with both the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, and the U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
The Arab League is pressing for an emergency debate in the U.N. Security Council, which the United States has put off until at least Sunday. The Arab League needs to keep in front of the debate on Jerusalem, the analysts agreed, and not cede the field to Hamas.
When the Israeli military suddenly announced after midnight on Friday that its ground forces had begun “attacking in the Gaza Strip,” several global news outlets, including The New York Times, immediately alerted readers that a Gaza incursion or invasion was underway.
Within hours, those reports were all corrected: No invasion had taken place. Rather, ground troops had opened fire at targets in Gaza from inside Israeli territory. A top military spokesman took responsibility for the error, blaming the fog of war.
But by Friday evening, several top Israeli news organizations were reporting that the mistaken announcement was no accident, but a deception.
The intent, the media reports said, was tricking Hamas fighters into believing that an invasion had started — and to react in ways that would make them more vulnerable to a furious attack by 160 Israeli jets.
The military’s English-language spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, insisted that the false announcement had been his honest mistake, based on his misunderstanding of information coming in “from the field.”
But Israel’s Channel 12 news station called the spread of misinformation to foreign journalists a “planned ploy.”
The possibility that the military had used the international news media to kill fighters in Gaza prompted sharp objections from several news organizations.
“If they used us, it’s unacceptable,” said Daniel Estrin, N.P.R.’s correspondent in Jerusalem. “And if not, then what’s the story — and why is the Israeli media widely reporting that we were duped?”
SDEROT, Israel — It was 1:30 p.m. on Friday in Sderot, and Ido Avigal, 5, was being laid to rest a few miles to the north. He had been killed in what officials termed a freak incident two days earlier when a rocket from Gaza made a direct hit on the building next door to his aunt’s apartment, where he was visiting with his mother and older sister.
When that rocket struck on Wednesday evening, he was sheltering in a fortified safe room meant to protect residents from this exact threat. But a piece of shrapnel managed to puncture the thick, steel shutter and the thick glass window of the shelter, mortally wounding the boy. Ido’s mother and his sister were also injured while inside the room.
It was the first such case of a death in a fortified safe room that military officials could recall.
In the current round of fighting, which began on Monday, Gaza militant groups have fired more than 2,000 rockets into Israel, with more than 600 aimed at Sderot, the Israeli military said. Israel has pummeled Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes and artillery fire.
On Friday, Palestinian officials said 120 people had been killed in the attacks, including 31 children in Gaza. On the Israeli side, seven civilians, including Ido, and one soldier had been killed, Israeli officials said.
In the early 1990s, after Israel came under attack by Scud missiles from Iraq, all newly built homes were required to be constructed with a safe room made from reinforced concrete. Built to technical specifications that have been upgraded over the years, the protective spaces are supposed to withstand blast and shrapnel from conventional weapons, as well as offer some protection against chemical and biological attacks. These rooms include windows since they also serve as a functional part of the home.
An initial investigation found that the safe room where Ido was hiding had been built to the proper specifications, according to Colonel Dayan. The penetration by the shrapnel was probably caused by the angle at which the rocket hit, he said, adding that the only new recommendation for now was to sit low down in safe rooms, below the window line.
At Ido’s funeral on Friday, his father, Asaf Avigal, eulogized him. “I’m sorry I did not take the shrapnel in your place,” Mr. Avigal said, according to Israel’s N12 news channel. “A few days ago, you asked me: ‘Dad, what will happen if the siren goes off while we are outdoors?’ I told you that so long as you were with me you would be protected. I lied.”
Deadly conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has in the past sparked protests and intense flare-ups of anger in Europe, sometimes leading to anti-Semitic acts, particularly in 2014, when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip.
And with the current conflict intensifying and more protests being organized, officials in France and Germany are taking steps to avoid a repeat.
France banned a pro-Palestinian protest planned for this weekend in Paris, sparking an intense political debate and an unsuccessful court challenge from the organizers of the demonstration, and the government has deployed police around the country in anticipation of other protests and possible violence.
In Germany, where protesters this week attacked synagogues, burned Israeli flags and marched through the streets chanting slurs against Jews, law enforcement readied for several demonstrations in Berlin on Saturday and officials said that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.
Felix Klein, a German official tasked with countering anti-Semitism, said: “It is appalling how obviously Jews in Germany are being held responsible here for actions of the Israeli government in which they are completely uninvolved.”
He called on Muslim associations to “distance themselves from violence against Jews and attacks on their places of worship, to call for nonviolence and to exert a de-escalating influence on the Muslim community in Germany.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have both condemned the rocket attacks on Israel and stressed that the country has a right to defend itself. On Friday, a statement from Mr. Macron’s office said he had also expressed worries about civilian casualties in Gaza in a phone call with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The ban on the weekend protest planned for Paris was requested by France’s interior ministry. The police authorities complied, citing the “sensitive” international context, as well as the risk of “troubles to public order” and acts of violence against synagogues or Israeli interests in the French capital.
“There can be no hateful demonstration, no anti-Semitic demonstration in France,” Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, told reporters in Lille on Friday. He said that police would be widely deployed in Paris and elsewhere in France to contain any unrest and protect France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe.
Protests were also planned in large cities such as Marseille, Strasbourg and Lyon.
In 2014, radical protesters on the fringes of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in France vandalized Jewish businesses, clashed with police and chanted “Death to Jews.” This week, French authorities repeatedly cited those events to justify the protest ban.
“We must not relive the vile scenes of 2014 in the streets of Paris,” Mr. Darmanin said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerning to many French people but that “it must not be exported” to French territory.
Political parties on the right and center supported the ban, and Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, called it a “wise decision.”
But organizers of the protest filed an emergency motion in court, arguing that there had been many peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations since 2014 and accusing the French government of being too favorable toward Israel. On Friday evening, the court upheld the ban.
There is no simple answer to the question “What set off the current violence in Israel?”
But in an episode of The Daily this week, Isabel Kershner, The New York Times’s Jerusalem correspondent, explained the series of recent events that reignited violence in the region.
In Jerusalem, nearly every square foot of land is contested — its ownership and tenancy symbolic of larger abiding questions about who has rightful claim to a city considered holy by three major world religions.
As Isabel explained, a longstanding legal battle over attempts to forcibly evict six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem heightened tensions in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of violence.
The always tenuous peace was further tested by the overlap of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with a month of politically charged days in Israel.
A series of provocative events followed: Israeli forces barred people from gathering to celebrate Ramadan outside Damascus Gate, an Old City entrance that is usually a festive meeting place for young people after the breaking of the daily fast during the holy month.
Then young Palestinians filmed themselves slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jew, videos that went viral on TikTok.
And on Jerusalem Day, an annual event marking the capture of East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, groups of young Israelis marched through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to reach the Western Wall, chanting “Death to Arabs” along the way.
Stability in the city collapsed after a police raid on the Aqsa Mosque complex, an overture that Palestinians saw as an invasion on holy territory. Muslim worshipers threw rocks, and officers met them with tear gas, rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades. At least 21 police officers and more than 330 Palestinians were wounded in that fighting.
Listen to the episode to hear how these clashes spiraled into an exchange of airstrikes that has brought Israeli forces to the edge of Gaza — and the brink of war.