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Israel mobilises thousands of troops towards Gaza as death toll mounts

Defence minister mobilises 5,000 soldiers after at least 26 Palestinians killed during Israeli bombing of besieged enclave
Israeli soldiers stand next to the Iron Dome aerial defence system set to intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday (AFP)

Israel has ordered the mobilisation of thousands of troops to be sent towards Gaza after at least  26 Palestinians were killed during its bombing of the besieged enclave.

The Israeli army said Defence Minister Benny Gantz had called in 5,000 troop reinforcements to “deepen home front defence”.

Israeli television news showed Israeli tanks massing near the fence with Gaza, as part of an operation Israel has called "Guardian of the Walls'"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said on Tuesday that Israel would be stepping up its strikes against Gaza.

"At the conclusion of a situational assessment, it was decided that both the might of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks will be increased," he said in video statement.

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The latest round of Israeli strikes on Tuesday afternoon left at least two people dead, bringing the death toll to at least 28 people since Monday.

Iyad Shayer and his wife Layali Shayer were killed in the strike on Al-Nafaq Street in Gaza City. while their 4-year-old daughter Menna Omar was left "clinically dead" after being transferred to al-Shifa hospital.

Another daughter, 5-years-old, is in the ICU, while another is in emergency care, according to local sources.

Several Palestinians were killed during Israeli bombing in the early hours of Tuesday.

Gaza air strikes: US government refuses to condemn killing of children by Israel
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Those killed included a Palestinian woman whose home was targeted in the besieged coastal enclave. The ministry said 122 Palestinians had been injured.

The woman was killed in the Al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Her children were also wounded in the attack, but their condition was reported to be stable.

Two Islamic Jihad commanders were killed in an air strike that struck a residential building in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, Maan news agency said.

A third commander was severely injured, according to the news agency.

Among the 10 children killed during the air strikes were two siblings from the al-Masri family, Ibrahim, 11, and seven-year-old Marwan, from Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.

"The children were playing with their cousins in front of the house when a man on a motorcycle passed by, and the occupation targeted him twice," Youssef al-Masri, the children's father, told Middle East Eye.

"My children were martyred. I cannot find any justification whatsoever for targeting someone passing through overcrowded civilian neighbourhoods where dozens of children usually play," he added.

Rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip killed two women in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, Eli Bin, head of the Magen David Ambulance service, told reporters.

Another Israeli was seriously wounded while five more suffered light injuries.

Hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israel in the past few days in response to an Israeli crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem.

'A grave violation of children’s rights'

A Palestinian official said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were trying to stem the escalating violence, amid international concern that events could spiral out of control.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, described the air strikes as "indiscriminate and irresponsible".

He said that Israel was responsible for a "dangerous escalation" in Jerusalem, and called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence. 

A US State Department spokesperson refused to condemn the air strikes on Monday, in a press conference hours later in which he also equivocated on whether Palestinians had the right to self-defence.

Ned Price said: "Broadly speaking, we believe in the concept of self defence. We believe it applies to any state," without clarifying whether this precluded Palestinians given they do not have their own state."

When pressed later by a reporter, Price said: "I am not here to debate the legalities."

In a statement on Tuesday, Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director in the occupied Palestinian territory, said: “There is no possible justification for children being killed or injured.

"We condemn and demand an immediate stop to the indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians, including children.

"This is a grave violation of children’s rights and perpetrators must be held to account for their actions and brought to justice."

Forced evictions

Following rocket fire from Gaza, Haaretz said sirens had sounded in many Israeli towns, including Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Bnei Ayish.

In Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, a woman who did not give her name told Israel's Channel 13 TV that an air conditioner fell on her and one of her children during the night and a bathroom door fell on her husband's head.

Sheikh Jarrah evictions map

The military wing of the Hamas movement, the de facto ruler of Gaza, said it had carried out the rocket attacks on Ashkelon, located 13km north of Gaza, in retaliation for the night raid that killed the Palestinian woman. 

Israel had announced on Monday the launch of a new operation on the Gaza Strip following earlier rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups on Israel in protest against the storming of al-Aqsa Mosque.

Tensions had continued to escalate on Monday, as Palestinians continued to protest the forced evictions set to take place in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

On 2 May, Israel's Supreme Court ordered that 40 residents of Sheikh Jarrah, including 10 children, be removed from their homes, which would subsequently be given to Israeli settlers. The order sparked massive protests in East Jerusalem, which have spread across cities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli forces have been particularly brutal in their attacks on protests near al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Israeli forces stormed the mosque complex again on Monday morning, injuring hundreds of Palestinians.

Hamas ultimatum

On Monday, Hamas had given Israel a 6pm deadline to withdraw from al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah and to release all detainees arrested during the recent crackdown on protests.

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Israeli forces did leave the mosque for a few hours, but just after sundown, there were reports they had again stormed the holy site. 

Meanwhile, a Palestinian man was killed in the Israeli city of Lod after he was shot dead late on Monday evening as protests continued inside Israel in solidarity with al-Aqsa and Gaza.

In footage widely shared online, the man was seen lying on the ground with many people crowded around him calling for medical attention.

The Palestinian news website Arab48 cited local sources as saying the protester was shot dead by an Israeli settler, while the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the cause of death was not yet confirmed. Israeli police confirmed the fatality without further explanation.

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