Live Updates: Israeli Strike Hits Gaza Media Tower as Violence Intensifies

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An Israeli airstrike destroyed a prominent building in Gaza City on Saturday that housed media outlets, including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The Israel Defense Forces said it gave an advanced warning for civilians to evacuate.CreditCredit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

The worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years intensified on Saturday as protests erupted again in the occupied West Bank and an Israeli airstrike destroyed a prominent high-rise building in Gaza City that housed media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera

The Israel Defense Forces said its fighter jets struck the media tower because it also contained military assets belonging to Hamas. The I.D.F. said it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building to allow evacuation.

Gary Pruitt, the chief executive of the A.P., said he was “shocked and horrified” by the destruction of the building. The news agency was seeking information from the Israeli government, he said on Twitter.

The Biden administration has “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Twitter.

As fighting intensified and protests broke out anew in the West Bank, a senior American envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Jerusalem to help broker a cease-fire. Mr. Amr, the United States deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, was scheduled to meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But while Hamas and Israeli officials signaled late Friday that they were open to discussing a cease-fire, fighting continued unabated for much of Saturday, even as American, Egyptian and Qatari attempted to negotiate a pause in fighting.

Credit…Gil Cohen-Magen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An Israeli airstrike overnight killed at least 10 members of an extended family in a refugee camp in Gaza, after which Hamas militants aimed another round of rockets at Tel Aviv.

Demonstrations broke out again in the West Bank on Saturday, Nakba Day, an annual commemoration of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948. In Ramallah, the administrative center of the West Bank, a siren sounded for 73 seconds to mark the years since the dispersal.

The protests in the West Bank illustrated how widespread the confrontation has become since Hamas fired its first rockets shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday.

The health ministry in Gaza said that at least 139 people had died in Israeli airstrikes and shelling, 39 of them children, with about 1,000 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.

Credit…Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Power in Gaza is down to five hours a day in some places, and water comes 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.

A funeral for people killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

An Israeli airstrike that hit a house in a Gaza refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from the same extended family overnight, eight of them children, according to witnesses. A 5-month-old infant was pulled from the rubble alive.

Palestinian officials and neighbors said the house in the Shati camp had been attacked with no warning. In a statement on Saturday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces said that it had “attacked a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials, in an apartment used as terror infrastructure in the area of the Al Shati refugee camp.”

The father of four of the children who died, Mohammed al-Hadidi, told reporters that his wife and their five sons had gone to Shati to visit her brother for Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feasting holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

“They were sleeping in their homes,” Mr. al-Hadidi said, speaking to Shehab, a news agency linked to Hamas. “They weren’t holding weapons, they weren’t firing rockets and they weren’t harming anyone.”

Shati is a crowded refugee camp north of Gaza City along the Mediterranean coast. With its jumble of buildings and alleyways beside the sea, Shati, also known as Beach camp, is the third-largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps.

Initially home to 23,000 refugees who fled Lydda, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva and other areas of Palestine in 1948, the camp has since grown to house more than 85,000 people. All of them reside in an area of about a fifth of a square mile, making it one of the most crowded places in the world, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as Unrwa, which works with Palestinian refugees.

Al Jazeera broadcast video of rescue teams using earth-moving trucks to clear the rubble of the home. Rescue workers were also seen climbing around the rubble in search of survivors, while graphic footage showed medics evacuating the bloodied victims.

At the edge of the rubble, under the harsh lights of the rescue teams, was Mr. al-Hadidi, howling at the ruins where his children’s bodies had been found. In one video of the scene posted on social media, he sways while several other men hold him up.

On Saturday afternoon, the rescue work had stopped, and the rubble from the house had been pushed to either side of Al-Soussi Mosque Street. Residents of the four neighboring homes were sweeping up the shattered glass and debris. Though they were so close to the house that was struck that they were nearly touching it, the other buildings were comparatively undamaged, suggesting a precision strike.

Airstrikes on Gaza had intensified after midnight, and when the missiles struck the home at about 2 a.m., some people in the neighborhood were awake, glued to the news.

News media footage on Saturday morning showed Mr. al-Hadidi visiting his infant son in the hospital, holding his small hand and kissing him as the child wails. “Oh, love,” he says to the infant, Omar. “Thank God, love.”

“This is an oppressive world that is standing by watching us and our children while massacres are taking place,” Mr. al-Hadidi said in the Shehab interview.

Vivian YeeAdam Rasgon, Iyad Abuheweila and

The Aqsa Mosque compound.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Our Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, has examined the recent events that have led to the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in years. A little-noticed police action in Jerusalem was among them:

Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

Here is his full account of that night and the events that later enfolded.

Palestinians on Saturday carried the bodies of children killed in an Israeli airstrike on a refugee camp in Gaza.
Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

The Israeli military came under mounting criticism on Saturday for the growing number of children that have been killed in airstrikes on Gaza.

Images of children’s bodies circulated on social media on Saturday, along with the video of a bereft Gaza father comforting his wailing infant — the sole child to survive an Israeli airstrike.

At least 145 people have died in Gaza since fighting began on Monday, about 40 of them children, according to the United Nations. Ten Israeli civilians, including two children, have died since Hamas fired rockets into Israel.

“It’s not acceptable!” Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister, wrote on Twitter on Saturday, vowing to make a case at the United Nations to hold Israel accountable for the death of children. He said Israel had an obligation under international law “to protect children in conflict & r not doing so!”

The current battle is not the first time children have borne the heavy share of the casualties. In the 2014 conflict, more than 500 children were killed, according to the United Nations, roughly a third of Palestinian fatalities.

Among the deaths this week were eight children killed in a single airstrike around 2 a.m. Saturday in the Shati refugee camp.

“I am appalled by the horrific incident in Al-Shati camp which claimed the lives of 8 Palestinian children, in an Israeli airstrike,” Tor Wennesland, the U.N. Middle East envoy, wrote on Twitter.

Speaking of the children killed on both sides, he added: “I mourn their short lives.” Children “continue to be victims of this deadly escalation,” Mr. Wennesland said. “I reiterate that children must not be the target of violence or put in harm’s way. The hostilities must stop now!”

Gaza’s demographics and the nature of life and warfare there make any fighting dangerous for children, aid workers say.

Relatively few women in Gaza are employed, and the fertility rate is high, leaving the median age in the crowded coastal enclave at just 18, compared to 30 in Israel and 31 worldwide. And Israel says that Hamas positions its fighters in or underneath residential areas, deliberately exposing civilians — and children — to harm.

As the week of deadly violence in the Middle East has unfolded, Britain experienced a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, a charity said on Saturday as officials across Europe braced for protests.

The Community Security Trust, a charity that records anti-Semitic threats, said it had received more than 50 reports of Jews across Britain being threatened and verbally abused in the past week — a 490 percent increase from the previous seven days. It said it believed that many more attacks had gone unreported.

Offensive phrases and slogans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been shouted at Jewish people of all ages, including children, said Dave Rich, the charity’s director of policy. “When the conflict in Israel reaches this level of intensity, we always see increases in anti-Semitic incidents,” he said.

The police in England and Wales are also conducting investigations after graffiti of swastikas, “Free Palestine” messages and anti-Semitic terms were found sprayed on property this week, including on the door of a synagogue in Norwich in eastern England.

Credit…Adat Yeshua Messianic Synagogue

The synagogue’s leader, Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake, told the BBC that the community’s initial reaction was “shock and horror,” but that “our response to this is not one of hate, but one of love.”

Marches in support of Palestinians have taken place in London and other English cities in recent days, with a march in England’s capital city on Saturday attracting thousands of protesters. But elsewhere in Europe, France banned a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris, citing the “sensitive” international context and the risk of acts of violence against synagogues and Israeli interests in the French capital.

Paris protest organizers pressed ahead on Saturday despite the ban. The police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the rally, which had drawn about 3,000 people, Agence France-Presse reported.

In Germany, a number of small demonstrations took place on Saturday. This past week, German protesters attacked synagogues, burned Israeli flags and marched through the streets chanting slurs against Jews.

A new round of deadly violence erupted in the Middle East this week, as Israeli airstrikes hit targets in Gaza, and the militant group Hamas launched rockets at cities inside Israel.

The flag of Israel flying over the Austrian chancellery in Vienna on Saturday. The Austrian government said the Iranian foreign minister canceled his trip after the flag was raised.
Credit…Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister canceled a visit to Vienna because the Austrian chancellor flew the Israeli flag over the chancellery on Friday in a show of solidarity, the Austrian foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran was supposed to meet his Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg, but canceled the trip. “We regret this and take note of it,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Schallenberg said. “But for us it is as clear as day that when Hamas fires more than 2,000 rockets at civilian targets in Israel then we will not remain silent.”

The cancellation is expected to have no impact on the talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and bring both the United States and Iran back into compliance with its terms. Similar talks in 2014 to negotiate the deal continued despite a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Iran’s government backs Hamas and its leaders have said that Israel has no right to exist. Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat and has cautioned Washington from trusting even a renewed nuclear deal with Tehran. The talks in Vienna have been progressing, but slowly.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is a strong supporter of Israel and called flying the Israeli flag over the federal chancellery a mark of solidarity amid the violent clashes.

But Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister who heads the Iranian delegation at the Vienna talks, criticized the move. Vienna has been “a great host for negotiations,’’ at least so far, he wrote on Twitter on Friday. He called seeing the flag of Israel over Austrian government offices “shocking and painful” and added: “We stand with Palestine.”

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transcript

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Palestinians Commemorate Annual Day of Grievance Amid Conflict

People gathered in the West Bank on Saturday to honor Nakba Day, the anniversary of the 1948 displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during Israel’s creation. The demonstration is one of several that took place globally.

[sound of a siren] [music] [clapping, chanting]

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People gathered in the West Bank on Saturday to honor Nakba Day, the anniversary of the 1948 displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during Israel’s creation. The demonstration is one of several that took place globally.CreditCredit…Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

Israeli ground forces at the Gaza border on Friday.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

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?”

Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense weapons, designed to intercept incoming rockets and artillery shells, in Sderot.
Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, left, signing a document in Tel Aviv proclaiming the new Jewish state of Israel on May 17, 1948, as Foreign Minister Moshe Shertok witnessed.
Credit…Associated Press

On the afternoon of July 11, 1948, Israeli regiments conducted an operation in the town of Lydda that became formative to their new state, and echoes in the violence raging this week in that same town, now known as Lod.

Civil war between Jews and Arabs had broken out in 1947, after the United Nations approved a plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into two new, independent states, Palestine and Israel. In May 1948, after Israel declared independence, neighboring Arab states invaded.

Two months later, Israeli forces arrived at Lydda with the town posing a dilemma for their newly formed state. Its residents were Palestinian. But, geographically, it was to be Israeli.

Historians still debate the degree to which what happened next was planned, spontaneous, or a mix of both. Israeli forces, breaching the town, exchanged fire with local militiamen. The assault left nine Israeli soldiers dead and killed more than 100 residents, according to one estimate.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, ordered his forces to expel the remaining residents. Though about a thousand stayed behind, tens of thousands were marched to the Jordanian lines 11 miles away.

Some Israeli historians argue that the mass expulsion was a premeditated policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at removing Palestinians. Others hold that Lydda’s purge was done in the heat of battle.

The mob violence this week demonstrates how a decision made in 1948 to treat the town’s Palestinians as a threat to Israel’s existence still resonates in powerful ways today.

A damaged building in Petah Tikva, Israel, that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

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.

The Daily Poster

Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, Reignited

Rockets, airstrikes and mob violence: Why is this happening now, and how much worse could it get?


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