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Netanyahu warns against ‘lynchings’ as clashes between Arabs and Jews rock Israeli cities

As the Israeli military and Palestinian militants in Gaza exchange deadly airstrikes and rocket bombardments, rioting and violent clashes have also swept through several Israeli cities between Arab and Jewish citizens.

In Bat Yam, south of Jaffa, graphic video Wednesday night showed a Jewish right-wing mob trying to lynch an Arab driver. Police say the man was dragged from his car before the assault began. Video shows about 20 people hitting him with metal objects and kicking him in the head repeatedly. He was taken to hospital where his injuries were described by police as moderate.

In Acre, north of Haifa, a lynching attempt by an Arab mob left a Jewish man critically wounded, according to Israeli police. A police spokesman said the mob attacked police officers with stones before attacking the victim with stones and iron bars.

“We are very, very worried about this deterioration,” Israeli lawmaker Aida Touma-Suleiman in Acre told CNN’s Hala Gorani in a live interview late Wednesday evening local time.

“I am locked in my house, it’s happening in front of my house, and there is no way to go out. The tear gas is filling the houses, and the situation is insecure. There has been attacks on Arab citizens in different cities today,” she said.

“I’m really, really worried about this city (Acre). The same is happening in Haifa. The same is happening in Lod. There are different attacks on different citizens.”

The Israeli-Arab lawmaker went on to say: “I’m not sure that the police is able or even willing to control the situation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday slammed the violence in Israeli cities as “unacceptable” and said he had ordered the police to adopt emergency powers, to reinforce with Border Police units, and to impose curfews where necessary.

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews,” he said in a statement.

“To the citizens of Israel I say that I do not care if your blood is boiling. You cannot take the law into your own hands,” Netanyahu added. “You cannot grab an ordinary Arab citizen and try to lynch him — just as we cannot watch Arab citizens do this to Jewish citizens.”

Militants in Gaza have fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel since the latest flareup began Monday afternoon, and Israel has responded with devastating airstrikes in Gaza.

Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza has now killed at least 83 people, including 17 children and seven women, the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry reported Thursday. At least 487 people have sustained various injuries, the ministry said.

Seven Israelis have been killed and more than 200 have been injured since Monday, the Israeli military said Wednesday. A six-year-old boy was killed Wednesday when a rocket fired from Gaza struck a residential building in Sderot, according to an emergency responder.

Decades of coexistence ‘trampled’

Fueled by controversy over planned evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem, and restrictions at a popular East Jerusalem meeting point as Ramadan began, conflict between Israelis and Palestinians boiled over this week, escalating rapidly into one of the worst rounds of violence between the two sides in the last several years.

“We’re escalating towards a full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said Wednesday.

Fury over the situation has fueled fierce protests in the central Israeli city of Lod, where Israeli police reported Wednesday that people were throwing rocks at passing cars and blocking roads into the early hours.

The mayor of Lod, Yair Revivo, said decades of coexistence had been “trampled.”

He said Arab-Israeli rioters had been “burning synagogues, Talmud Torah, dozens of vehicles, burning garbage containers, destroying Israeli flags and worse, lowering the Israeli flag and hoisting the Palestinian flag, on a night of riots that injured policemen and residents who found themselves besieged.”

Meanwhile an Arab-Israeli resident of Lod, Wael Essawi, told CNN that a mosque was stormed by Israeli police and Jewish residents during prayers on Tuesday night before tear gas was fired and cars were set ablaze.

“We couldn’t do anything but we opened the windows so we can breathe… it was very intense,” Essawi said.

‘Terrified screams’

Another resident, Khaled Zabarqah, said that following a Palestinian demonstration on Monday against Israeli policies in Jerusalem, thousands were hit with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets before Israelis started throwing stones and beating the group.

“My 15-year-old daughter was woken up by the sound of stones being thrown at her bedroom window, I was then woken up by her terrified screams,” Zabarqah said.

“There was nothing we could do but protect and defend ourselves with any tools we have, it’s either we defend ourselves or we get killed,” he said.

On Tuesday, a 25-year-old Arab-Israeli man was shot and killed in the city by a 34-year-old Jewish man, who fired on protesters after they targeted him with rocks, according to police.

Police arrested two suspects in connection with another shooting also in Lod.

A CNN team driving through the city early Wednesday saw that some of the roads were strewn with rocks. Burnt out cars were also visible by the side of the road following a night of unrest in the city.

Communal violence was also reported Wednesday in the Israeli cities of Tiberias, Umm al-Fahm and Hadera.

Unrest has also spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where at least 322 Palestinian protesters were injured during clashes with the Israeli army in the West Bank and with Israeli police in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, according to a Palestinian Red Crescent handout obtained by CNN.

Israel: ‘Terror targets’ struck

The Israeli military said Thursday it had struck more than 600 “terror targets” in Gaza since the recent hostilities began.

Israel has been “able to strike a significant part if not the majority of the military leadership of Hamas” in the past three days of bombardment, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

Israel did not yet have an exact number of enemy combatants killed, Conricus said. “As of yesterday it was more than 30. It has risen since,” he said.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 1,600 rockets, Conricus said. “Approximately 400 have fallen short inside the Gaza Strip and the interception rate continues at an average of 90%,” he said.

The IDF has struck “significant parts” of Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s rocket-firing capability, he added, “but it is by no means totally degraded.”

Three Israeli brigades are currently deployed around Gaza. The IDF has not taken a ground operation in Gaza off the table, according to an IDF briefing.

Global airlines — including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa and British Airways — have all canceled flights to Israel amid the escalating violence.

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