May 11, 2021 - World

Explosions in Tel Aviv and Gaza as Israeli-Palestinian crisis escalates

Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepts a rocket fired from Gaza over southern Israel. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty

Tel Aviv — The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups fired dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Tel Aviv and other cities in central Israel on Tuesday night, a new step in the current conflict that is likely to be followed by increased Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Why it matters: The current crisis began in Jerusalem but has evolved into a military conflict across Israel and Gaza that remains on a path of escalation.

Zoom in: Air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv at 8:45pm local time (1:45pm ET), and sounded again five more times over the next half hour.

  • Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system but several hit populated areas. At least one Israeli civilian was killed and several dozen injured.
  • The barrage of rockets forced the closure of Israel's international airport for landings and departures for two hours.

The state of play: At least 28 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours, including 10 children, according to health officials in Gaza.

  • The Israeli air force continued its air strikes in Gaza throughout the day, including on several high-rise buildings it claimed hosted Hamas facilities.
  • One thirteen-story tower was destroyed after residents were warned to evacuate, and several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders were killed.
  • Meanwhile two Israeli women were killed by rocket attacks on southern Israel earlier in the day from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. At least 95 Israelis have been treated for injuries.
  • Hamas claimed to have fired 137 rockets during that earlier flurry in an attempt to overwhelm the Iron Dome system.

The exchange of fire began on Monday after Hamas threatened military action if Israeli police didn't leave the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews where Israeli security forces had carried out a raid earlier on Monday.

  • After Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem, Israel undertook a series of airstrikes and warned of a military campaign that could last several days.
  • The Israeli military said it had struck 130 "terror targets" in Gaza overnight, including two attack tunnels being dug under the border with Israel.

What they're saying: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the latest barrage from Gaza that Israel would continue its attacks on Gaza with "full force," while Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the military campaign was just beginning and would be designed to restore calm for the long term.

  • A spokesman for Hamas' military wing said that if the Israeli strikes continue, Hamas will undertake a missile assault that exceeds what was seen on Monday afternoon in Southern Israel.
  • Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinians had already won the confrontation: "Gaza stood up for the victory of Jerusalem, he said. He added that Egypt, Qatar and the UN had been in touch with Hamas about restoring calm, and said he'd replied that Israel bore responsibility for the escalation.

The White House urged de-escalation while condemning the Hamas attacks and stating Israel's right to defend itself, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

  • Secretary of State Blinken also condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza in a call on Tuesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the State Department said.
  • Meanwhile President Biden sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which also touched on the need to de-escalate the current crisis with Israel, per a White House national security council spokesman.
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday and expressed Biden's "unwavering support for Israel's security and for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians," per the White House.

UN envoy for Middle East peace Tor Wennesland tweeted: "Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of deescalation. The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now."

Go deeper