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Israel-Palestine: Hamas warns off airlines as it launches new long-range missile

Firing of rockets at Israeli airport near Eilat comes as Gaza officials say at least 83 Palestinians killed since Monday
Ramon airport confirmed it had suspended operations on Thursday, after a rocket fired by Hamas landed in the area, causing no damage or casualties (AFP)

The Hamas movement has said it fired a number of large rockets at Israel's Ramon Airport near Eilat on Thursday, where incoming passenger flights were earlier diverted after waves of rocket launches aimed at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv. 

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, said that the new Ayyash 250 rockets had a reach of 250km and had been aimed at the airport in the far south of Israel.

The range of the 250kg rocket would mean it could target all of Israel's territory.

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"We enter the Ayyash 250 into service and tell the enemy, here are your airports, and every point from the north of Palestine to its south is within range of our missiles, and here is the next deterrent weapon flying in the sky of Palestine towards every target that we define and decide with the help of God," Ubaida said in a statement, according to Palestinian media.

He also called on "international airlines to immediately halt their flights to any airport" in Israel.

The rocket is named after Yahya Ayyash, a leading Hamas operative who was assassinated by Israel in 1996.

Ramon Airport confirmed it had suspended operations on Thursday, after a rocket fired by Hamas landed in the area, causing no damage or casualties.

An Israeli official said the airport was now operating as usual.

Flights cancelled

Earlier, Israel had redirected flights to Ramon Airport from Ben Gurion, its main Tel Aviv-area airport, due to the security situation.

Social media carried footage, purportedly taped by a passenger on an El Al flight from Brussels that was the first plane rerouted to Ramon, showing the view through the window of rockets being fired and intercepted over Tel Aviv. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

On Thursday, British Airways said it was cancelling flights to Tel Aviv, the latest international carrier to avoid flying to Israel amid the escalating violence there.

United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines on Wednesday also all cancelled flights between the United States and Tel Aviv.

Poisonous gas claim

Israeli warplanes continued to bomb high-rise buildings and other targets in the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday as Palestinian Muslims marked Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Since the Israeli offensive began on Monday, Gaza’s health ministry says at least 83 people, including 17 children, have been killed. Hundreds of others have been wounded.

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Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a soldier and two Palestinian citizens of Israel, medical officials said.

Israel had announced on Monday the launch of a new military operation - dubbed "Guardian of the Walls" - on the Gaza Strip following rockets fired by Palestinian groups on Israel in protest against the storming of al-Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem by Israeli forces.

The death toll in Gaza has further strained hospitals already under heavy pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reuters reported that health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas.

Israeli forces also killed three Palestinians in the West Bank on Wednesday as tensions flared in the occupied Palestinian territory late into the night.

Lynch mob

There has also been more violence between Jewish-Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel in several cities inside Israel, as Palestinians continue to protest the forced evictions set to take place in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. 

Fighting broke out on the streets of some communities and synagogues have also been attacked.

Footage on Wednesday of a mob attacking a man near Tel Aviv who they believed to be Palestinian was aired live on Israeli television. The images show a man being forcibly removed from his car and beaten by a crowd of dozens until he lost consciousness.

The attack, aired by public broadcaster Kan, took place on the seafront promenade of Bat Yam, south of Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later, while the victim lay motionless on his back in the middle of the street.

One of Israel's two chief rabbis appealed for restraint on Wednesday following the street attacks.

"We must not be dragged into provocations and inflicting harm on people or property," Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in a statement.  "The Torah of Israel grants no licence for taking the law into one's hands and acting violently."