Days of deadly violence have seen Israeli soldiers massing on the edge of the Palestinian territory, although the army stressed there had been no ground incursion despite an earlier statement that troops were carrying out an attack in Gaza.
Palestinian families have grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighbourhoods on the northern outskirts of besieged Gaza as death toll climbed to 126, according to the Palestine's officials.
Six to seven families were seen riding on pickup trucks, fleeing their homes in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia on Friday, some on Thursday night, as Israel unleashed heavy artillery fire ahead of a possible ground invasion.
"Some of the families will head to UNRWA facilities closer to the Israeli border which are seen as safer," Nisar Sadawi, a journalist in Gaza, told TRT World. The UN refugee agency's schools were also hit by Israeli strikes on May 11 and 12, causing extensive damage to the compounds and at least 29 classrooms.
Israel has bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes but stopped short of a ground offensive in the conflict that has now claimed 126 Palestinian lives including 31 children, and wounded more than 900 people.
The UN said around 10,000 people fled their homesfor safety.
Palestinians are sheltering in schools, mosques and other places with limited access to water, food, hygiene, and health services, said UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
As the violence intensified, Israel said it was carrying out an attack "in the Gaza Strip" although it later clarified there were no boots on the ground, blaming an "internal communication" problem for the confusion.
Israeli artillery pounded northern Gaza early on Friday, bringing the front lines closer to dense civilian areas.
In northern Gaza, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced the building to rubble, residents said. Sadallah Tanani, a relative, said the family was “wiped out from the population register” without warning.
“It was a massacre. My feelings are indescribable,” he said.
Out of respect for the spirit of Eid, I appeal for an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel. Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) May 13, 2021
Balls of flame
Israeli army spokesperson John Conricus said the country was "prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios", describing a ground offensive as "one scenario".
Images early on Friday showed large balls of flame turning the night sky orange in densely packed Gaza, while rockets were seen tracing through the air towards Israel.
The use of artillery fire in Israel’s four-day-old offensive raised the civilian casualties.
The fourth day of heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza's collapsed buildings.
The United Nations said the Security Council would meet on Sunday to address the conflict as the world body's secretary general called for "an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities".
"Too many innocent civilians have already died," Antonio Guterres tweeted. "This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region."
Israeli defences intercept rockets
Hamas sent a heavy barrage of rockets deep into Israel as Israel pounded Gaza with more air strikes and shells.
The Israeli military says more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza.
Gaza's rockets are mostly repurposed handmade weapons in comparison to Israel's military might which gets over $16 billion for defence spending and $3.8 billion from the US annually for a 10-year period.
Israel's missile defences have intercepted 90 percent of the rockets.
Israeli air strikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.
Violence across Israel
Coinciding with Israel's assault on Gaza, violence is surging in areas where Palestinians and Jews reside.
At least 11 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank on Friday.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a "massive reinforcement" of 9,000 troops to suppress the internal unrest.
Seven people have been killed in rocket attacks Israel, including a 6-year-old boy, since the start of its attack on the enclave.
From Sheikh Jarrah to Gaza
Israel’s attacks on Gaza follow spiking tensions in occupied Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The Israeli police deployed heavy-handed tactics against Palestinian worshippers in and around Al Aqsa Mosque in the last week of the holy month.
Another flashpoint in recent days has been a court case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from occupied East Jerusalem homes in Sheikh Jarrah claimed by Jewish settlers.
If the court rules for the settlers, Palestinians living in the neighbourhood would be displaced for a second time, the first when they were moved into Sheikh Jarrah as refugees by Jordan in the 1950s.
Palestinians protesting in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah have been targeted by Israeli forces.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed the entire city in 1980 – a move that has never been recognised by the international community.