GAZA CITY: Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza on Wednesday, killing 24 people in a major new confrontation with alleged Palestinian militants, as Hamas flexed its firepower and sent thousands of Israelis running for shelters across the country.
As the death toll from Israel’s two-day Operation Protective Edge reached 45, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide” in Gaza.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared bent on ploughing ahead, warning of even tougher action against Hamas.
There have been no Israeli deaths so far. But Hamas began flaunting its firepower overnight, launching waves of long-range rockets across central Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Sirens even sounded in the northern port city of Haifa, witnesses said, as unconfirmed reports spoke of a rocket hitting near Caesarea and another even further north.
Tanks massed on the Gaza border, AFP correspondents reported, as Prime Minister Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to send ground forces into the territory from which it pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
Bellicose rhetoric followed from the premier. “We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza,” his office quoted him as saying.
The escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists and the region in flames, with civil war raging in neighbouring Syria and conflict intensifying in Iraq.
The European Union and the US both called for restraint in the confrontation.
Six women and nine children were among 24 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza on Wednesday, medics said.
The deadliest single strike took place shortly after midnight when a missile slammed into a house in northern Gaza, killing an alleged militant and five of his family members.
Raids to the north and east of Gaza City killed two women and four children, while a strike on Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza killed a woman and four of her children, emergency services said.
Another seven Palestinians died in other raids across Gaza throughout the day.
But the strikes failed to staunch the rocket fire by Gaza militants, which sent Israelis scurrying into shelters across an ever broadening swathe of the country.
Two long-range rockets crashed into the sea off the northern port city of Haifa on Wednesday, Israeli media reported, in an attack Hamas militants claimed.
Public radio said one struck near the seaside resort of Caesarea and another in the Carmel Beach region, both south of Haifa.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2014