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Religious violence spreads across Israel as death toll from Gaza airstrikes mounts

Israel, Gaza violent clashes enter day 4
Israel, Gaza violent clashes enter day 4 02:49

Bat Yam, Israel — Religious violence unlike anything seen in decades has spread across Israel. CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab reports that Jewish and Arab neighbors who've lived side-by-side for generations have started to turn on each other.

On Wednesday night an Arab-Israeli man was pulled from his car in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam and beaten unconscious by dozens of far-right Jewish Israelis.  

The brutal attack, labelled a "lynching" by Israeli media, was broadcast live on TV. It was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country's chief rabbi.

"I think this is different from anything I've seen, and I've been living here for 24 years," Tel Aviv resident Dahlia Scheindlin told CBS News. "I just want to point out that we're all Israelis, so Jews, Arabs — we're all Israelis."

Violence escalates in Israel-Gaza conflict 11:18

Images of a horrifyingly similar scene were posted on social media from Acre, in northern Israel, showing a Jewish-Israeli man allegedly being attacked by a group of young Palestinian Arabs.

"We had a nightmare of a night, a real riot by hundreds of Arab youths," said Avraham Sagron, the rabbi of a nearby synagogue. "They came in masses, torched car after car, trash bins, broke windows and it was really dangerous to leave the house." 

People, homes, businesses and places of worship have all been targeted.

Just a few days ago the violence sweeping across towns and cities with mixed populations of Jews and Arabs was unthinkable, but the fear now across the region is that there may be much more to come.

The nightmare is being felt nowhere more acutely than in the Gaza Strip. The tiny, densely populated Palestinian territory controled by the Hamas group has been pummelled by Israeli airstrikes for four days.

The strikes are wreaking havoc, while Hamas' military wing and other Palestinian groups continue to fire rockets at Israel. More than 1,000 were let loose on Wednesday night alone.

Israel strikes kill Hamas commanders 01:55

Since Monday, more than 80 Palestinians have been killed, including 17 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says many of those killed have been Palestinian militants. Seven Israelis have died so far in the tit-for-tat war, including one soldier.

Israel's military said two infantry units and an armored unit had been sent to the Gaza border, and that plans for a theoretical ground incursion had been prepared and could be submitted to military chiefs for consideration as soon as Thursday. Any such invasion would require approval by Netanyahu's government, and mark a hugely controversial escalation in the conflict.

But with mounting calls by the U.S. and other countries to step back from the cross-border hostilities, it was the widespread civil unrest inside Israel causing the most immediate concern across the region, stoking fears that the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be headed into new, deeply dangerous territory.

There was, however, merciful calm on Thursday morning at one flashpoint in particular — the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, where this latest round of violence began.

Thousands of Muslims offered Eid prayers there on Thursday, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. There were no reports of violence, but the normally joyous celebration was undeniably on edge.

Threat to air travel

There was yet another worrying sign on Thursday that the tension and the violence could get worse before it gets better. Hamas' armed wing in Gaza warned that civilian flights in and out of Israel should be halted, because they could be hit by the group's rockets.

"We call on international airlines to stop their flights to Israel," a spokesman for the al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement posted to the group's website. "We tell the enemy that all your airports, and every point from north to south Palestine, are within range of our missiles."   

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon
Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 10, 2021. AMIR COHEN / REUTERS

Already Israel's civil aviation authority had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, the main air hub in Israel, to the secondary airport called Ramon. But the Qassam Brigades claimed it had specifically targeted Ramon airport on Thursday, and there were reports in Israeli media that a rocket did land about 7 miles away. 

Spokespeople for United Airlines and American Airlines told French news agency AFP that they'd already cancelled all their flights from the U.S. to Israel at least until Saturday.

Appeals for calm

United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that efforts to establish a cease-fire are underway, and an Egyptian delegation arrived Thursday in Israel, but there have been scant signs of progress yet, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has vowed to widen the offensive.

President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel's right to defend itself, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to push for a truce.

Blinken also spoke on Wednesday with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction governs the West Bank but holds little sway in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The top American diplomat "expressed his condolences for the lives lost as a result" of the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a readout of the call provided by the State Department.

"The Secretary condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and bring the current violence to an end. The Secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity," the readout said.

CBS News' Pamela Falk reported on Thursday that Israel's U.N. delegation had asked the rest of the Security Council member states to clearly voice support for the country's right to defend itself from attack. 

Tunisia, China and Norway's U.N. delegations had requested that the Council hold an open, emergency meeting on the Mideast crisis on Friday, but a source familiar with U.S. policy told Falk that the American delegation would prefer an open meeting next Tuesday to give space for diplomacy at the highest levels.

By late Thursday, the U.S. and other nations agreed to hold an emergency open virtual meeting on Sunday. 

The source said the U.S. was working behind the scenes to de-escalate the situation, but wanted "to ensure that Security Council action de-escalates tensions," and that officials were hoping for a ceasefire. 

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