Tel Aviv, Israel — The party’s on hold in a city that prides itself on its vibrant culture and nightlife.
As Israel and Palestinian group Hamas trade blows in the latest chapter of their rapidly escalating conflict, a surreal scene unfolded in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.
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The streets and beaches of the normally buzzing city were empty save for a few bewildered tourists.
A Swiss couple wandered around, confused. “Is everything closed because it’s Saturday, or because it’s wartime?” one of them asked.
They wanted to find a spot to grab a quick bite near Jaffa and were not sure why everything was so eerily quiet.
In front of a closed cafe in the south of the city, a few Israelis sat together, smoking.
“I’ve got to get some air and see people with all this stress,” said one to the other. They did not seem to know each other — they were strangers brought together by a shared anxiety.
Mounting death tolls
Early Saturday morning, Hamas had launched a surprise attack on Israel. Thousands of rockets were launched, triggering sirens as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and dozens of armed fighters entered southern Israel from the besieged Gaza Strip.
So far, at least 70 Israelis have been killed in the attacks by Hamas, which said it has also taken a “big number” of hostages into the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces launched air raids on Gaza, with about 200 Palestinians killed so far in the densely populated enclave. Several hundreds have been injured. Israeli bombs targeted two high-rise buildings in Gaza.
The number of Palestinian and Israeli casualties is expected to rise as the fighting continues.
Anxiety, in parks and living rooms
With the uncertainty surrounding the hostage count and casualties in southern Israel, most people in Tel Aviv are staying in their apartments. But some, like the Israelis outside the cafe, were driven outdoors by the stress.
In a small park, others reminisced about the 1973 October War in which Israel had to confront Egypt and Syria, a war whose 50th anniversary was commemorated a day earlier, on October 6.
Indoors, Tel Avivis are glued to their screens, waiting anxiously to hear from relatives and friends to make sure they’re safe.
Football games have been cancelled, as was the International Film Festival in the northern city of Haifa, approximately 150km (93 miles) from Gaza.
Meanwhile, the weekly protests against Israel’s judicial overhaul were paused for the second time since they began in February.
Source: Al Jazeera