This article has been updated since initial publication.
Israeli snipers and airstrikes killed eight Palestinians during Friday and Saturday amid a sharp escalation of violence in the days leading up to the Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel hopes to use as a propaganda showcase.
On Saturday evening, the health ministry in Gaza announced the death of Saba Mahmoud Abu Arar, a child of one and a half years, after an Israeli airstrike hit her family’s home east of Gaza City.
Another child in the home was moderately injured, according to the health ministry.
An Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza killed Khalid Muhammad Hilmi Abu Qleiq, 25, Saturday evening.
Some 40 people have been injured in the ongoing Israeli attacks.
Explosions from Israeli airstrikes continued to reverberate through Gaza as night fell on Saturday, with no sign of an end to two days of escalating violence.
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that Israeli warplanes attacked the central Gaza City office building where its offices are located with at least five rockets, causing no injuries. In photos published by the agency, the building appears to be totally destroyed.
This prompted sharp condemnation on Twitter from Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu:
On Friday, two fighters in the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a resistance facility in central Gaza.
The health ministry named them as Abdallah Ibrahim Abu Mallouh, 33, from Nuseirat refugee camp, and 29-year-old Alaa Ali Hasan al-Boubli, from al-Maghazi refugee camp. Two others were critically injured in the Israeli air attack.
Photos of al-Boubli and Abu Mallouh circulated on social media.
The airstrikes on Friday came after Israel said that two of its soldiers were injured by gunfire near the boundary fence with Gaza. The soldiers, one an officer, were injured moderately and lightly, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Palestinian resistance factions responded Saturday with barrages of more than 200 rockets and mortar shells into Israel, one of which reportedly damaged a house near Ashkelon.
An 80-year-old Israeli woman and a 49-year-old Israeli man were reportedly injured by shrapnel.
They were both transferred to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon. The woman was seriously injured but both are in stable condition, Haaretz reported.
Photos of the damage were shared by local media:
Israeli medical authorities said that “a 15-year-old boy was lightly hurt running to a shelter, and two people suffered from shock,” as The Times of Israel reported.
Haaretz reported that another Israeli man was injured while running to a shelter.
The Israeli army launched air and tank fire attacks on more than 120 sites in Gaza on Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza killed 22-year old Imad Muhammad Nuseir and Israeli attacks on Saturday injured at least seven others, according to the health ministry in the territory.
Israel reneges on understandings
Analysts in Israel see the willingness of Hamas and other factions to respond with force to Israel as a reaction to Israel’s failure to implement understandings to ease the suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip, and to allow financial transfers from Qatar.
In recent months, Egyptian intelligence officials have been attempting to broker a long-term ceasefire and in that context Hamas agreed to de-escalate the situation, especially ahead of Israel’s 9 April general election.
“Ahead of the election, and in light of the promises given by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in hopes of avoiding conflict as Israelis vote, Hamas held its fire. But the payoff didn’t arrive at a pace that satisfied the Palestinians,” Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel observes.
“The concessions in border crossings were anything but swift. And the main hurdle for the Palestinians was the delay in transferring the Qatari money – $30 million a month, with this month’s batch particularly important as Ramadan begins next week and with it rising expenditures.”
While no group claimed responsibility for the Friday shooting that injured the two Israeli soldiers, Harel asserted that it looked like “the work of the Islamic Jihad,” intended to put pressure on Israel.
“Hamas knows well that the timing of the flare-up is particularly troublesome for Israel ahead of Memorial Day and Independence Day and the Eurovision Song Contest, slated to be held in Tel Aviv later in May,” Harel adds.
“Under these circumstances, it seems there is a good chance the escalation will end in a compromise and with concessions for the Palestinians.”
Israel is already having trouble selling tickets and attracting tourists for Eurovision despite investing tens of millions of dollars to stage what it hopes will be an international propaganda success.
A diplomatic source in Gaza that the newspaper did not name told Haaretz that “Israel cannot shirk its responsibility for the situation we are in.”
The source warned against further escalation caused by delays in implementing the understandings.
Israeli military officials also reportedly warned political leaders in recent weeks, as Haaretz put it, “that if significant steps are not taken to implement understandings with Hamas, the group controlling the Gaza Strip will struggle to prevent other organizations in the coastal enclave from acting against Israel.”
Yet despite the warnings, “there has not been an increase in aid or goods going into the Strip.”
United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov tweeted Saturday night that the UN was “working with all sides to calm the situation.”
He called for an immediate de-escalation and “return to the understandings of the past few months,” warning that “those who seek to destroy them will bear responsibility for a conflict that will have grave consequences for all.”
Last week, Israel reduced to six nautical miles the zone it allows Gaza fishers to use off the territory’s coast as a collective punishment after it said a rocket was fired from Gaza’s north coast towards the sea off the coast of Israel.
On 1 April, Israel had expanded the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles.
“Deliberately harming a group of civilians in response to an action over which they have no control is cruel and indefensible,” the Israeli human rights group Gisha stated. “It constitutes an illegal measure of collective punishment.”
No one claimed responsibility for the missile, which caused no injuries, but resistance factions typically fire rockets out to sea in order to test them.
On Saturday evening, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesperson for Hamas, said the organization held Israel responsible for the ongoing escalation, blaming the occupier for its failure to implement prior understandings and its maintenance of the siege of Gaza.
Barhoum added that the message from resistance factions is that they would not permit Israel to continue to shed Palestinian blood and that they would remain the “protective shield” for the Palestinian people and for peaceful protesters.
Barhoum urged Israel to “seriously understand and realize this message.”
Killing unarmed protesters
On Friday, Israeli snipers fired on unarmed protesters in Gaza as thousands of Palestinians gathered along the boundary fence with Israel for the 57th week, under the banner of the Great March of Return.
Israeli soldiers fatally shot Raed Khalil Mahmoud Abu Teir, 19, in the abdomen during protests east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
Abu Teir was using crutches when he was shot as a result of injuries suffered a week earlier when Israeli snipers shot him in the pelvis, according to the human rights group Al Mezan.
He was taken to the European hospital near Khan Younis where he died from his injuries. Pictures of Abu Teir circulated on social media following his death:
Near al-Bureij, Israeli forces fatally shot 31-year-old Ramzi Rawhi Hasan Abdo with a bullet to the head, the health ministry in Gaza stated.
More than 100 others were injured by the Israeli military during the protests, according to Al-Mezan, including 35 with live fire.
More than 30 people were hit directly with tear gas canisters – an Israeli targeting practice that has killed four Palestinians so far this year.
One of those hit in the head with a tear gas canister on Friday was a paramedic. Three other paramedics and a photojournalist were injured the same day.
The weekend’s killings bring to nearly 50 the number of Palestinians slain by Israeli forces and armed settlers this year.