Israel warns of fresh Gaza assault
ISRAEL threatened a fresh offensive in Gaza last night following a wave of air strikes that marks the most serious escalation of violence there for more than a year.
The Israeli military said aircraft had bombed four targets used by Hamas to store and produce weapons in retaliation for 20 rockets fired from the Palestinian territory over the past month. Up to 13 missiles were fired.
Deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom warned Hamas that patience in the Jewish state was wearing thin.
"If this rocket fire against Israel does not stop, it seems we will have to raise the level of our activity and step up our actions against Hamas," he said.
"We won't allow frightened children to again be raised in bomb shelters and so, in the end, it will force us to launch another military operation."
Three of the Israeli strikes hit near Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. Two missiles hit a guard post of Hamas's armed wing.
A fourth raid destroyed a workshop in the refugee camp of Nusseirat, in central Gaza, according to Hamas. Other witnesses said a small dairy factory was destroyed in western Gaza City.
Moawiya Hassanein, the head of the Palestinian emergency services in Gaza, said three children, aged two, four and 11, had been hit by flying glass.
The air strikes are the fiercest since Israel's invasion of Gaza 15 months ago. After it, Hamas stopped its almost daily rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities near Gaza after the Holy Land's most volatile corner was pounded into submission.
But the operation came at a significant human cost that scarred Israel's international reputation.
According to Israeli human rights groups, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, including 252 children.
Last night the US, whose relationship with Israel is already under strain, said that a "military solution" was not the answer. Philip Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, said: "The Israelis have a right to self-defence. At the same time, as we've said many times, we don't ultimately think there is a military solution to this. Our message remains to the Israelis and Palestinians that we need to get the proximity talks going, focus on the substance, move to direct negotiations and ultimately arrive at a settlement that ends the conflict once and for all."
The escalation in rocket attacks over recent weeks coincided with an Israeli decision to expand a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)