Updated May 13, 2021 - World

Israeli ground troops join the fight near Gaza, raising threat of war

Israeli troops prepare to fire shells toward the Gaza Strip. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli ground troops have joined the fight near the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces announced on Thursday night.

Driving the news: While tanks and artillery were deployed for the first time on Thursday, the IDF says no ground troops have crossed into Gaza. Israel has called up 9,000 reservists and massed at least three brigades on the frontier with Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

  • The last ground war between Israel and Hamas took place in 2014.

The big picture: The current escalation began on Monday in Jerusalem, where Palestinians were protesting the planned evictions of six Palestinian families in favor of Jewish settlers, and Israeli nationalists were planning an annual march to celebrate the reunification of the city under Israeli control.

  • With the city braced for violence, Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, and violently dispersed Palestinian protesters, some of whom were throwing stones.
  • As images from al-Aqsa spread around the region, Hamas warned that they would attack Israel if Israeli police didn’t leave the compound, one of the holiest sites for both Muslims and Jews.

An air war has followed, with Hamas firing thousands of rockets from Gaza and Israel conducting airstrikes, which the Gaza Health Ministry says have killed at least 109 Palestinians, including 28 children.

  • Several high-rise buildings have been toppled, and the Israeli military says it has killed several Hamas commanders.
  • One Israeli soldier and six others, including one child in Israel have been killed by Hamas attacks, which have targeted Israel's largest cities. Most of the rockets fired from Gaza have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system.
  • International actors including the UN, U.S. and Egypt have been attempting to prevent further escalation, though the Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself and has not publicly called for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Israeli cities with Jewish and Arab residents, horrific scenes of mob violence have unfolded over the past three nights, with both Arab and Jewish individuals and businesses targeted.

  • It’s the worst inter-communal violence in Israel since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
  • Thursday's escalation comes on the Eid al-Fitr holiday, normally a joyous day on which Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Go deeper: Israel's "change bloc" collapses, leaving Netanyahu in charge

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the IDF confirmed no ground troops have entered Gaza.

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