Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in strikes that Palestinian officials said killed at least 13 people, stepping up what threatens to become a long-term offensive against Hamas after scores of rockets hit Israeli towns.
After the worst outbreak of violence along the Gaza frontier since an eight-day war in 2012, the Israeli military said a ground invasion of the enclave was possible, though not imminent, and urged citizens within a range of 40km of the coastal territory to stay close to bomb shelters.
“We are preparing for a battle against Hamas which will not end within a few days,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement. “We will not tolerate missiles being fired at Israeli towns and we are prepared to extend the operations with all means at our disposal in order to keep hitting Hamas.”
The Israeli military said it targeted about 90 sites in aerial and naval assaults overnight and resumed air strikes on Tuesday.
In the worst strike, a missile slammed into a house in the southern city of Khan Yunis killing seven people, among them two teenagers, and wounding 25, emergency services spokesman Ashraf
al-Qudra told AFP. Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbours to gather at the house as a human shield. But shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that levelled the building.
In response to the pounding, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said all Israelis would be potential targets for retaliation. “The Khan Yunis massacre... of children is a horrendous war crime, and all Israelis have now become legitimate targets for the resistance,” Abu Zuhri wrote on his Facebook page.
In another strike, east of Gaza City, two people were killed, Qudra said, without giving details on their identities. Earlier, three people were killed in a separate strike on a car in central Gaza City, he said, correcting an earlier report of four fatalities.
There were no reports of deaths from rockets fired out of Gaza. A source in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted the Israeli leader as saying: “The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) must be ready to go all the way. All options are on the table, including a ground invasion.”
The Israeli military said it had received provisional government approval to call up as many as 40,000 reserve soldiers, but had not done so yet. Some 1,500 other reservists have already been mobilised.
Violence flared on the Israel-Gaza border last month after Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the occupied West Bank following the disappearance there of three Israeli youths on June 12. Palestinians have launched more than 200 rockets at Israel from Gaza, the military said, since Israel mounted the dragnet while searching for the teens who were found dead last week. Israel has accused Hamas militants of killing them.
In a suspected revenge attack, a Palestinian teen was abducted in East Jerusalem last Wednesday. His charred body was found in a forest and six Israeli suspects have been arrested. The Israeli military said that in the past 24 hours, more than 100 rockets had been fired at Israel, a sharp increase.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2014.