UPDATE: Israel continues to bomb Gaza, kills at least 27

تم نشره في Wed 9 July / Jul 2014. 01:14 AM - آخر تعديل في Wed 9 July / Jul 2014. 02:44 PM
  • Palestinians try to salvage what they can of their belongings from the rubble of a house destroyed by an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City Tuesday (AP)
  • Smoke and flames are seen following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 8, 2014. (Reuters)

GAZA/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) - At least 27 people were killed across Gaza by Wednesday, Palestinian officials said, by a bombardment Israel said may be just the start of a lengthy offensive against Islamist militants whose rockets reached hit unprecedented depths of its interior. 

At least 18 civilians, including five children, were among the 27 Palestinian dead since Israel stepped up its assault on Tuesday, and 150 people have been wounded, hospital officials said.

Israelis ran for cover as air-raid sirens sounded in the business capital Tel Aviv and the occupied city of Jerusalem, both of which were hit in the previous Gaza war of November 2012.

Hamas said it also fired at rocket at northern Haifa, 140 km (88 miles) away, and though this was not confirmed Israel said a rocket had landed in Hadera, 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza - further than had previously been reached.

The rocket strikes could, however, draw an Israeli invasion, something officials have said is a possible option.

In densely populated Gaza, explosions echoed day and night, shaking buildings and sending up plumes of smoke. At least 12 civilians, including five children, were among the 20 dead, Palestinian officials said. On the Israeli side, at least two people were wounded, medics said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Israel's Iron Dome interceptor shot down a rocket fired at Tel Aviv by Gaza faction Islamic Jihad.

"We will not tolerate rocket fire against our cities and townships, and therefore I ordered a significant broadening of IDF (Israel army) operations against the terrorists of Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

He called on Israelis to rally together and "show resilience, because this operation could take time".

Israel has threatened to invade Gaza if the rockets persist.

In a bold infiltration, gunmen from Hamas landed on the shore near Zikim, where a kibbutz and an army base are located, just over the Gaza border. Israel's army initially said it killed five gunmen, but later put the death toll at four.

ABBAS TALKS TO EGYPT

U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and entered a power-share with Hamas in April after years of feuding, said he had spoken to regional powerbroker Egypt about the Gaza crisis.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Cairo has tightened closures on the Egyptian-Gaza border, increasing economic pressure on Hamas from a long-running Israeli blockade.

"Sisi stressed Egypt was interested in the safety of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and sparing this grave assault," a statement from Abbas's office said, adding that Cairo would "exert efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire".

Washington backed Israel's actions in Gaza while the European Union and United Nations urged restraint on both sides.

"We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organisations in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks."

The surge in violence along the Gaza border - the worst since an eight-day war in 2012, when Tel Aviv was also targeted - followed a chain of events begun by the abduction of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank on June 12.

Blaming Hamas, which denied a role, the Israelis arrested hundreds of its activists in their search for the teenagers who were eventually found dead, as was a Palestinian youth abducted in Jerusalem last Wednesday in a suspected revenge murder.

Palestinians have since launched more than 200 rockets from Gaza, Israel says.

While threatening an "earthquake" of escalation against Israel, Hamas said it could restore calm if Israel halted the Gaza offensive, recommitted to a 2012 Egyptian-brokered truce and freed prisoners it detained in the West Bank last month.

"The enemy must not think about enjoying security unless these terms are met," the Hamas armed wing spokesman said.

The Israeli military said on Tuesday that, to support regular forces, it had called up 1,000 reserve troops out of a pool of 40,000 approved on Tuesday by the security cabinet. Some 1,500 other reservists have already been mobilised.

One Israeli attack overnight destroyed the house of a Hamas member's family, killing six people inside, locals said. The Palestinian Interior Ministry said the family had received a telephone call from an Israeli officer telling them to leave.

Locals said people had been urged to gather there as "human shields" to deter a second attack after it was hit earlier.

Another strike killed a Hamas commander, identified as Mohammed Shaaban, and three others travelling in a car together, a pro-Hamas website said.

MILITANT GROUP COMMANDERS TARGETED

In an emerging pattern, it was also going after commanders in Gaza's militant groups - in attacks which Palestinian officials said caused casualties among the men's families.

In an air strike on a home in northern Gaza on Wednesday, a top leader of the Islamic Jihad group and five of his family members were killed, the Palestinian Interior Ministry said. An 80-year-old Palestinian woman was killed in an Israeli attack on another target in central Gaza, local officials said.

The build-up to the most serious hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants since an eight-day war in 2012 began three weeks ago with rocket attacks following the abduction and killing of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank.

Egypt brokered a truce in the conflict two years ago, but its military-backed government is hostile toward Islamist Hamas and there were no immediate signs of intervention to halt the current fighting between the group and Israel's powerful armed forces.

Israeli leaders have called the persistent Palestinian rocket salvoes - which have also triggered air raid sirens in Jerusalem - intolerable and have approved the potential mobilisation of up to 40,000 reserve troops.

"The government has instructed the military to deploy forces along the border with Gaza to be ready for any contingency," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We have a number of options. Our goal, our overriding goal, is to safeguard the people of Israel and to end the launching of rockets from Gaza on our citizens."

An Israeli military spokesman said militants in Gaza have dozens of long-range rockets. One of them, an M-302 projectile, hit the coastal city of Hadera, some 60 miles (97 km) north of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, landing near a house but causing no injuries, the military said.

In a bold infiltration on Tuesday, gunmen from Hamas landed on the shore near Zikim adjacent to the Gaza border, where a kibbutz and a military base are located. Four gunmen were killed. 

U.S. VOICES SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL

Washington backed Israel's actions in Gaza while the European Union and United Nations urged restraint on both sides.

"We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organisations in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks."

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and entered a power-share with Hamas in April after years of feuding, said he had spoken to Egypt about the Gaza crisis.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Cairo has secured closures on the Egyptian-Gaza border, increasing economic pressure on Hamas from a long-running Israeli blockade.

"Sisi stressed Egypt was interested in the safety of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and sparing this grave assault," a statement from Abbas's office said, adding that Cairo would "exert efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire".

In the West Bank, about 400 Palestinian youths, chanting their support for Hamas's armed wing, threw stones at an Israeli army checkpoint on Wednesday. Soldiers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israel has blamed Hamas for the killing of the three Jewish seminary students who disappeared while hitchhiking in the West Bank on June 12. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied a role.

The rocket fire from Gaza began after Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in a West Bank sweep it mounted in tandem with a search for the youths, who were found dead last week. A Palestinian teen was abducted and killed in Jerusalem last Wednesday in a suspected revenge murder. Six Israelis have been arrested in that case. 

While threatening an "earthquake" of escalation against Israel, Hamas said it could restore calm if Israel halted the Gaza offensive, once again committed to a 2012 ceasefire truce and freed the prisoners it detained in the West Bank last month.

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