- Hamas prime minister’s headquarters, police compound and huge network of smuggling tunnels were targeted
- Follows Hamas rocket strike aimed at Jerusalem
- Israeli military have targeted more than 800 sites since the operation began
- Egypt’s president will today hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo to discuss to Gaza crisis
- Palestinian militants in Gaza fired four rockets at the Israeli port city of Ashdod while Israel used an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery in Tel Aviv today after it again came under rocket fire from Gaza
- Israel says its Iron Dome system has intercepted nearly 250 rockets since Wednesday
- Today, the White House defended Israel’s right to defend itself and decide how to respond to the rocket fire
- Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to go to the region for last ditch talks to avert full-scale conflict
PUBLISHED: 05:44 EST, 17 November 2012 | UPDATED: 13:09 EST, 17 November 2012
Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early today, widening a blistering assault on militant operations to include the prime minister’s headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels.
The new wave of attacks followed an unprecedented rocket strike aimed at the contested holy city of Jerusalem that raised the stakes in Israel’s violent confrontation with Palestinian militants and extended the battlefield.
The Israeli military did not provide a detailed account of its overnight targets, but said more than 180 sites were struck, making a total of more than 800 since the operation began.
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Unexploded bomb: A Palestinian Hamas policeman looks at an Israeli rocket in the street in Gaza City on Saturday
Israel had been slowly expanding its operation beyond military targets but before dawn it ramped that up dramatically, hitting Hamas symbols of power. A three-storey apartment building belonging to a Hamas military commander was hit, and ambulances ferried more than 30 inhabitants wounded by the powerful explosion.
Missiles smashed into two small security facilities as well as the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside, the Interior Ministry reported. No one was inside the buildings.
The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit while devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers, although it did not report any casualties from that attack.
Also hit was a cabinet building where the Hamas prime minister has his offices. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was not inside.
Missiles knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company.
In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels militants used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, residents reported. A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 30 miles away.
The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel before the military operation began.
Israeli aircraft kept pounding their original targets, the militants’ weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites. They also went after rocket squads more aggressively.
The military has called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and other armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signalling a ground invasion could be imminent.
Palestinian militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the Israeli attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv heartland.
Following those attacks, the military deployed an Iron Dome rocket defence battery in central Israel today. The system, devised precisely to deflect the Gaza rocket threat, was deployed two months earlier than planned, the Defence Ministry said.
According to Israel its Iron Dome system has intercepted nearly 250 rockets since a round of fighting broke out on Wednesday, including an incoming projectile bound for Tel Aviv.
Palestinian militants in Gaza has kept up their cross-border rocket salvoes. Four rockets hit an apartment building in the Israeli Mediterranean port city of Ashdod, ripping into several balconies, and police said five people were injured.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister – and struck a police headquarters.
With Israeli tanks and artillery positioned along the Gaza border and no end in sight to hostilities now in their fourth day, Tunisia’s foreign minister travelled to the enclave in a show of Arab solidarity.
Officials in Gaza said 42 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
Children’s charity Unicef appealed for the ‘utmost restraint’ from both sides to prevent youngsters being killed and injured.
Six Palestinian children aged between 10 months and 15 years had been reported killed and 60 injured in airstrikes on Gaza, it said, with another fatally wounded by a rocket that fell short.
Israeli schools within a 25-mile radius were closed because of the ‘indiscriminate’ rocket attacks.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander appealed to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to go in person to the region for last-ditch talks to avert full-scale conflict.
‘There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the decades violence has only led to more violence,’ he said.
‘What is needed now is an immediate end to the violence. We urge the UN Secretary General to visit the region this week to begin talks with all parties, and with partners in the region
‘There must now be a full-scale diplomatic initiative, led by the UN Secretary General himself, to try and bring this conflict to an end.
‘The only hope for peace and security for the citizens of the region will be through re-starting the stalled negotiations towards agreeing a two state solution.’
Egypt’s president will today hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis, a presidential source said.
Egypt has been working to reinstate a truce between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, after an informal truce brokered by Cairo broke down.
Israel launched a massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching cross-border rocket salvoes that have plagued southern Israel for years.
The operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel’s right to self-defence, along with appeals to both sides to avoid civilian casualties.
Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognise Israel, says its cross-border attacks have come in response to Israeli strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.
‘We have not limited ourselves in means or in time,’ Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel’s Channel One television. ‘We hope that it will end as soon as possible, but that will be only after all the objectives have been achieved.’
The Islamist movement has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but has maintained a blockade of the tiny, densely populated coastal territory.
The widened scope of targets brings the scale of fighting closer to that of the war the two groups waged four years ago.
Hamas, a group that remains pledged to Israel’s destruction, was badly bruised during that confrontation, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from smaller, more 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, the prime minister.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in an emergency session with cabinet ministers yesterday. Israeli media reported they approved drafting 75,000 reservists. Earlier this week, the government approved a separate call-up of 30,000.
Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said 16,000 reservists were called to duty yesterday and others could soon follow.
She said no decision had been made on a ground offensive but all options are on the table.
President Barack Obama spoke separately to Israeli and Egyptian leaders yesterday as the violence in Gaza intensified. In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated US support for Israel’s right to self-defence.
Today the White House defended Israel’s right to defend itself against attack and decide how to respond to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, blaming Hamas for starting the conflict.
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said: ‘These rockets have been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now. So Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long, and that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza.’
To Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, he praised Egypt’s efforts to ease regional tensions.
Egyptian leaders had promised to support Gaza against the Israeli attack on Thursday amid increasing signs that a massive ground invasion could be launched by Israel this weekend.
President Mohammed Mursi said he would not leave Gaza on its own and condemned Israel’s ‘blatant aggression against humanity’.
The declaration, hours after a visit to Gaza by Egypt’s prime minister, increased tensions in the region where Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into southern Israel – with three landing near Jerusalem – and Israeli warplanes pounded Palestinian targets.
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Mr Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood is linked to Hamas, did not elaborate on what form the support would take. Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire or peace agreement but with Hamas firing rockets across the border, and Israel calling up 75,000 reservists, there are fears it may already be too late.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilisation level.
Meanwhile Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a trip to Britain next week amid fears that his country could be the next to experience the Arab Spring’s demands for change.
King Abdullah had been due to visit Britain to speak to the Jewish community in London. The cancellation followed protests in Amman which spread to other parts of the country. At least one person was killed and 75 injured, including 58 policemen.
Among those taking part was the Muslim Brotherhood, which Jordan has accused of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January.
In Gaza, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Kandil held the bloodied body of a child during his visit to a hospital, promising: ‘Egypt will spare no effort to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce’.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was appalled that civilians were being killed, including three Israelis in their apartment and several Palestinian children, including a baby, and a pregnant woman.
Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters on Friday that Pillay condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and is extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip.
With rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Tel Aviv, Colville said Pillay ‘urges both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation.’
Israel targeted more than 130 locations in Gaza overnight on Thursday aimed at knocking out rocket-firing facilities which they say have been positioned close to schools and hospitals.
The conflict poses a test of Mr Mursi’s commitment to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.
On Thursday Foreign Secretary William Hague urged both Israel and the Palestinians to make efforts to halt the violence in Gaza, but made clear he believes Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end.
Mr Hague said he had spoken to the Egyptian foreign minister to urge him to use his country’s influence to try to negotiate a ‘meaningful’ ceasefire.
Protesters gathered near the Israeli embassy in London today condemned the British Government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza.
With placards, flags and chants, the activists branded Israel a ‘terror state’ and showed their solidarity with the people of the Palestinian enclave.
Speakers took to a podium to condemn the Government after Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Hamas regime in Gaza bore ‘principal responsibility’ for the escalation of violence.
Organisers claimed that ‘thousands’ of protesters had joined the rally.There was a major police presence in London’s Kensington area, with barriers and a gate blocking the road leading to the embassy.
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