Israeli air strikes hit Hamas HQ
Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with over 180 air strikes early today, widening an assault on militant operations to include the prime minister’s headquarters, a police compound and a network of smuggling tunnels.
The new attacks followed an unprecedented rocket strike aimed at the city of Jerusalem that raised the stakes in Israel’s violent confrontation with Palestinian militants.
Israeli aircraft kept pounding their original targets, the militants’ weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites.
The Israeli military called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and armoured vehicles along the border with Hamas-ruled Gaza, signalling an invasion could be imminent.
Palestinian militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the Israeli attacks inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against Israel, including long-range weapons turned for the first time against Tel Aviv.
Six people, including five militants, were killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks today, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. In all, 35 Palestinians, including 13 civilians and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli operation began.
Israel had been expanding its operation beyond military targets but before dawn it ramped up dramatically, hitting a three-storey apartment building belonging to a Hamas military commander, with over 30 inhabitants wounded by the explosion.
Missiles smashed into two security facilities as well as the Hamas police headquarters in Gaza, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses, the Interior Ministry reported.
The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit while devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers, although no casualties were reported.
A Cabinet building was also hit, where the Hamas prime minister has his offices. PM Ismail Haniyeh was not inside.
The Israeli military did not provide a detailed account of its overnight targets, but said more than 180 sites were struck, for a total of more than 800 since the operation began.
The widened scope of targets brings the scale of fighting closer to that of the war the two groups waged four years ago.
Hamas was badly bruised during that confrontation, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from militant groups to prove its commitment to fighting Israel.
“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing.
Israeli leaders have threatened to widen the operation if the rocket fire doesn’t halt. Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said options included the possible assassination of Haniyeh.
President Barack Obama spoke separately to Israeli and Egyptian leaders yesterday, as the violence in Gaza intensified. Speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated US’ support for Israel’s right to self-defence. To Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, he praised Egypt’s efforts to ease regional tensions.