Israel to ‘increase the assault’ as Hamas rockets land near airport
Israel intensified its aerial bombardments of targets in the Gaza Strip yesterday while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to "further increase the assault" on Hamas until it desists from firing rockets at Israeli cities and communities.
That did not appear in the offing anytime soon as the militant group targeted the area of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv and fired its longest range rocket yet, striking the area of Zichron Yaakov, near Haifa, 115km from Gaza.
More than 48 rockets hit Israel, according to the army, which said it had struck 550 Hamas sites since Tuesday, including 11 homes of senior Hamas members.
According to Palestinian reports, at least 43 Gazans have been killed since Tuesday, when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.
Most of the fatalities have been civilians and at least seven of them children, one of them 18 months old, according to Gaza human rights groups.
Israel says it is doing its best to avoid civilian casualties.
The heavy toll is likely to help fuel a further escalation in rocket attacks as Hamas seeks to project itself as the protector of the population, something that will in turn produce even more devastating Israeli action.
"This is snowballing,'' said Mahmoud Abu Rahme, a staffer at al-Mezan centre for human rights in Gaza City. He said the Israeli aerial bombardments from 2.30am to 4.30am yesterday were "the most intensive I have ever seen''.
Israeli analysts believe that if the rocket fire does not stop, Mr Netanyahu will opt for a ground operation in Gaza.
But it is unclear whether this would be limited to border areas or involve a reoccupation of Gaza urban centres, as some of his ministers have been advocating.
"The Israel Defence Force is prepared for all possibilities," Mr Netanyahu said. "Hamas will pay a heavy price for its firing at Israel's citizens."
In Gaza, 18-month-old Mohamed Malkiyeh and his mother were killed in an airstrike on the Zeitoun neighbourhood in the south of Gaza City, al-Mezan reported. Another civilian, Naifeh Farjalla (80) was killed in an airstrike on Moghraqa, south-west of Gaza City, Gaza health ministry officials said.
In northern Gaza, a military leader of the Islamic Jihad group and five family members were killed in an airstrike, the interior ministry said.
In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, Mohamed Masri (14) was killed along with his mother Sahar Hamdan when a missile landed adjacent to their house, the health ministry said.
The Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister, Yuval Steinitz, a Netanyahu ally, spoke yesterday of an additional goal to the military activity besides restoring calm.
"The additional goal, to hit Hamas hard, is no less important. It can also be to eliminate the terror army equipped with thousands of rockets.
It could be that the moment is approaching where despite the fact that it is difficult, complicated and has costs, we will have to take control of Gaza for a few weeks to cut the process of the establishment of this terror army.''
Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal said in Qatar that Hamas was interested in calm and not anxious for escalation.
He accused Israel of "pushing the Palestinian people against the wall, thinking there would not be a response".
In the West Bank, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli campaign and was reported to be planning discussions on whether the Palestinians should apply to join the International Criminal Court, a move he has shunned in the past for fear of Israeli and US reactions.
"What is happening in Gaza is a war crime and it is the right of the leadership of the Palestinians to defend the people of Gaza with all the diplomatic and legal means at its disposal," he told reporters.
An Israeli army spokesman, Lt-Col Peter Lerner, said the military was doing its best to avoid civilian casualties. (© Independent News Service)