When the Israeli bombardment rained down, United Nations officials in the Gaza Strip said dozens of people fled their homes in the north and east of the enclave to seek refuge in schools owned by the UN Relief Society for Palestinian Refugees and designated as emergency shelters .
Just a few kilometers away, residents of the Israeli city of Ashkelon fled again to their air raid shelters when sirens wailed in front of a new rocket fire fired from Gaza by Palestinian militants.
An Israeli woman died overnight after falling while running into an animal shelter. The Israeli military announced this on Friday. This made her the eighth Israeli to die since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian militants began exchanging gunfire on Monday.
Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza has now killed at least 119 people, including 31 children and 19 women, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza reported on Friday. At least 830 people were injured in Israeli air strikes this week, the Ministry of Health added.
In large parts of the Gaza Strip, electricity went out overnight as a result of the Israeli bombing, reported a correspondent for the Palestinian news agency WAFA. Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said power grids in northern Gaza, as well as parts of Gaza City and elsewhere, had been seriously damaged.
A CNN producer in Gaza reported heavy artillery fire from Israeli ground forces near the border and dozens of air strikes.
CNN also spoke by phone on Friday to Tariq Al Hillo, 27, of Beit Lahia, Gaza, who described a “terrible” scene overnight when the buildings around his own block, where six families live, were destroyed.
“I can’t even describe it, I don’t know where to start and I’m losing my sanity,” he told CNN. “All the buildings around us were totally destroyed yesterday, we saw scraps everywhere. I can still see them until now, I can still hear women screaming and men screaming loudly.”
People believed they were going to be killed any moment, he said. “We have lost everything around us and we have lost security. I have five sisters, three of whom are children between 10 and 15 years of age, they were trembling and looking around traumatized and waiting for their turn.”
At 2 a.m., he decided to leave the house to go to a relative’s home five or six miles away, Hillo said. “I wasn’t afraid of dying, but I was afraid that one of my family members would die,” he said. “On our way, I told my sisters to calm down and that nothing would happen to us, but I was shaking and couldn’t even walk because I was scared.”
On Thursday, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Israel had “many, many more targets” and no time limit on its military operations against Gaza.
Israel has so far called up 7,000 army reservists, he added. Most analysts believe that the current build-up of armor and infantry worth a single division is insufficient to carry out such a major incursion.
Amid intense Israeli artillery fire in Gaza early Friday, there were reports – later definitively denied – that the Israeli army had launched a possible ground invasion of the territory.
An army tweet saying “IDF air and ground forces are currently attacking the Gaza Strip” – coinciding with the start of an ongoing new round of artillery and air strikes – prompted many news outlets to report on a ground war. There was a lot of discussion in the Israeli media on Thursday.
Clarification came about an hour later. “There are currently no IDF ground forces in the Gaza Strip,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN early Friday local time.
IDF chief spokesman Hidai Zilberman confirmed to Israel Channel 12 News on Thursday that if the leadership opts for a ground raid, Israel will amass troops on the border with Gaza, but said it would take time.
“When the enemy beckons a land campaign, we say: Any break in soil in an area of the Gaza Strip would, with God’s permission, be an opportunity to increase our yield in enemy dead and enemy prisoners,” said the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing Hamas said in a statement Thursday.
Targeted tunnel network
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Conricus said the Israeli military was prepared for “various eventualities” and would continue to fire on military targets in Gaza while defending Israeli civilians from missiles.
According to the IDF, Palestinian militants have fired 1,800 rockets at Israel since Monday, 430 of which fell short. Of these, 190 were released between Thursday and Friday morning at 7 p.m., 30 of whom remained behind.
Overnight from Thursday to Friday, more than 160 units of the Israeli air force, infantry, artillery and tanks from 12 different squadrons attacked around 150 targets in the underground infrastructure in northern Gaza, the IDF said.
“Many kilometers” of the Hamas subway tunnel network were believed to have been damaged, but the exact effects are still being assessed, said Conricus.
Conricus said the number of “enemy combatants” killed is still being assessed, but has “increased significantly” since the last update when the number was more than 30.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system also intercepted another drone that was fired from Gaza – the second, the IDF said.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians intensified earlier in the week, fueled by controversy over planned evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem and restrictions on a popular meeting place in East Jerusalem at the beginning of Ramadan. It has since quickly turned into one of the worst rounds of violence between the two sides in recent years.
Unrest and violent clashes between Arab and Jewish citizens struck several Israeli cities this week, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn against “lynching” by both communities.
In Bat Yam, south of Jaffa, a graphic video on Wednesday evening showed a Jewish right-wing mob trying to lynch an Arab driver. Police say the man was pulled out of his car before the attack began.
In Acre, north of Haifa, a Jewish man was seriously injured when an Arab mob attempted to lynch, according to the Israeli police. A police spokesman said the mob attacked police officers with stones before attacking the victim with stones and iron bars.
Communal violence was also reported in the Israeli cities of Lod, Tiberias, Umm al-Fahm and Hadera.
Efforts to achieve international diplomacy so far seem to have stalled. A session of the UN Security Council on violence will take place on Sunday morning. The US blocked previous efforts by the Security Council to meet and preferred direct diplomacy over the conflict to discussion in an international forum.
CNN’s Hadas Gold and Abeer Salman reported from Jerusalem and Ibrahim Dahman from Gaza, while Celine Alkhaldi reported from Amman. CNN’s Eyad Kourdi and Richard Roth contributed to this report.